Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is an extremely entertaining throwback to the 80’s buddy-cop film, but switch out cops for bumbling private detectives, and add a dash of 70’s-flavored aroma to the cinematic atmosphere. Starring the improbably perfect pairing of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as mismatched partners who start the film as enemies but learn to love each other by the end, the film has a rough-house vibe with Black’s usual smart-assed sense of humor on full display. Add in a dash of Freebie and the Bean inspired vehicular mayhem (LOVE the opening bit with the car vs. house!), a seedy porno element, copious use of casual vulgarity, a funkadelic soundtrack, some lively and bloody (but never gratuitous) shoot-outs, and a sprinkling of nudity – it’s all so Shane Black and I love it. He’s got a way of adding unique character bits to the smallest of supporting players, and his two big leads get some serious zingers while displaying layered character backgrounds that help to add to the tonal richness of the piece. Gosling in particular seems to be having a ball with the comedic elements, even riffing on classic Abbot and Costello material. I love how the film mixes tones all throughout, and while the stakes are high, you know that it’ll all end comfortably. Crowe looks like he gained 50 pounds of fat and his laconic delivery is well suited to his character’s brutish tendencies. The two actors have genuine chemistry with one another and it’s a pleasure to watch them interact.
I am not going to attempt to summarize or potentially spoil the shaggy-dog plot, but it sort of reminded me of elements of The Big Lebowski, where the almost tangential A-story continues to escalate in craziness, while all of these interesting characters walk in and out of the twisting narrative. There’s a careening sense to the physical action which was also really enjoyable, especially during the big, raucous set piece at the film’s mid-section, a debauched porn-party at a glitzy mansion in the hills that turns into a shooting gallery. The film looks fabulous thanks to master cinematographer Philippe Rousselout (Big Fish, The People vs. Larry Flynt) calling the shots behind the camera, and the pace is zippy due to the crisp editing by Joel Negron. The widescreen images have been purposefully altered to suggest the haze and grime of late 70’s Los Angeles, all smoggy and brown and gold and amber. Too many comedies aren’t creatively thought out on a photographic level, and because Black cares about this side of filmmaking, his witty script compliments his great sense as a visual storyteller. A great ensemble cast is along for the ride, including Kim Basinger (still smoking hot), Keith David, Matt Bomer, the alluring Margaret Qualley, and the excellent Angourie Rice as Gosling’s mischievous daughter, which is one of Black’s classic movie staples. My only question: Why didn’t he set this film during the Christmas holiday?
Review by Nick Clement