Nutshell: Crowe. Gosling. Buddy perfection? Damn straight. Writer/Director Shane Black shows he’s got a helluva lot more where Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight came from. Maybe a bit too crazy sometimes, but overall a fun ride. Grade: A-
“You can’t even say Baryshnikov!”
When a movie decides to go all-in with the retro vibe, I’m all over it like Qiana on Steve Martin’s wild and crazy guy. Hey, even if the film sucks, the retro can’t be all bad, right? Well, with The Nice Guys, both the retro and the action are as fine as a pair of horse-pocket Jordache jeans. Ladies, Gosling is more than the “Hey Girl” meme. He’s got wicked sharp comedic chops. And with Crowe playing the straight man to Gosling’s crazy, it’s a match made in bromance heaven.
It’s 1978. Camaros are groovy, designer jeans are where it’s at, and dirty movies are everywhere. Well, not everywhere-everywhere. But it sure seems like it when PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has to track down a young girl named Amelia, who may have gotten caught up in some Rated X dealings. Meanwhile, a car crashes through someone’s house in the Hollywood hills, and adult star Misty Morning (great name btw) is found dead. Her last words – “How do you like my car, big boy?” – seem to be the catalyst for a string of murders involving the LA adult film industry. But that doesn’t mean too much to muscle-for-hire-with-a-heart-of-gold Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who was paid to make sure March stopped looking for Amelia. By Amelia. Once these two fellas straighten out their linked stories, they team up to figure out what’s going on. Dead bodies, disco dancing, and an assassin with an affinity for The Waltons (Matt Bomber, playing crazy surprisingly well) ensue. Could this all be something much more than it appears? Um, what do you think?
First off, there’s off-the-charts buddy chemistry. This is one of the best dude pairings since Lethal Weapon, which makes sense as Weapon writer Shane Black wrote and directed The Nice Guys. Crowe and Gosling are in their element here, kicking ass and taking names. (Or, for poor March, getting his ass kicked and taking it.) You can tell these two enjoy the hell out of breaking free of their action star/indie darling shackles and really letting it rip. And boy, do they. Whipsmart dialogue helps things along, and neither Crowe nor Gosling shy away from the extreme physical comedy here. It’s glorious.
And can we talk about Kim Basinger for a minute? She looks flawless. Sure, there’s probably a lot of chemistry and cutting involved in that kind of over-60 perfection. Hell, I thought it was LOLA for a moment. It might be a bit of that too. But Google her; it’s not all VFX. Crap. I’ve seriously gotta up my game just to stay average with these silver foxes around. Luckily, her tough-as-nails DA is more than a pretty face, and it’s good to see her really face off on the big screen. The Nice Guys may not be another Oscar win for her – it’s not a large role – but watching her bring her A-game is a treat. So is watching her work with Crowe again. Hiccup? Her soliloquy at the end, which I guess was supposed to be lightly comedic, but landed with a thud. It felt shoehorned in, and Basinger looks trapped and uncomfortable.
Speaking of ladies bringing their A-game, Angourie Rice (These Final Hours) as March’s daughter Holly steals the show every time she’s on screen. With March and Healy going nuts, she’s the voice of exasperated reason. Of course, Holly is only 14, so expect her to make her own round of bad decisions. But here, Rice proves that she’s a serious talent.
Stop for a minute. Because the art department nailed the 70s, and I’ve gotta mention that. So did the music department. The songs. Oh, the songs!
- “Horse With No Name”
- “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”
- “Jive Talkin'”
- “Get Down On It”
- “Boogie Wonderland”
- “Papa Was a Rollin Stone”
- “Rock and Roll All Nite”
And these are just the ones I remember as the film played out. The Nice Guys definitely feels like summertime back in the day. With more dirty, and less ice cream man.
Things get to be a bit too Keystone Kops during the last half of the film, but I’m torn between saying that’s too much gilding on this lily, and just telling you to strap in and enjoy. So I’ll play the middle and say strap in and gild. Because when it comes right down to it, The Nice Guys is just a blast. Did I know what was going on half the time? No. Did I care? Ditto. Everybody on screen was having way too much fun, and so was I.
Make sure you’ve got plenty of popcorn, Jujubes, Twizzlers, soda, or whatever floats your back-when boat. Because with The Nice Guys, this retro groove will make you think back to movies you saw when you were a kid. The ones your big sister/cousin/cool aunt snuck you into. Fun, freaky and 70s fabulous, here’s hoping this is the first of a series. This could be this century’s Lethal Weapon franchise if it plays its cards right. And right now this film’s got a winning hand.