The Nice Guys (2016)

Directed by Shane Black
Written by Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi

Russell Crowe as a leading man has not been what he once was for going on about a decade now. Looking back at some of his films of late, I can see decent movies, decent performances, but nothings which hearkens back to a time where he was a great, bankable star. The InsiderGladiator, and A Beautiful Mind all came within 2 years of each other at the turn of the century, and while Robin HoodNoah, and The Next Three Days may be serviceable, I am willing to call Crowe’s time as an elite actor over. Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, has been a name on the rise and finds himself at a time when his star should be hitting it’s peak, as Crowe’s once did, and yet, he has perhaps not been as good as he was in his early breakout indie hits Half NelsonThe Believer and Lars and the Real Girl. So when the two are paired together in a “buddy” crime comedy such as Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, my expectations are not high, though the potential for a break out hit is certainly there.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a brute for hire, taking money to “send messages”, while Holland March is a lackluster private investigator whose questionable business practices include taking money from widows who claim their husband has gone missing. After the suspicious death of pornstar Misty Mountains, Holland is hired by her aunt, who claims to have seen her after her death. The clues lead Holland to Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who appears to be on the run and hires Jackson to send a message to Holland to stop looking for her. After their chance encounter, Jackson and Holland realize they are working the same case, and team up, along with Holland’s mature-beyond-her-years daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) to get to the bottom of Amelia’s disappearance, leading them into a conspiracy larger than they could have anticipated.

The Nice Guys, despite my tempered expectations, was one of the upcoming films I was looking forward too. I typically try to avoid trailers for films, but sometimes they’re unavoidable and I must admit some of the scenes included in this films trailer looked as though Gosling was bringing the goods from a comedic standpoint. I can’t say the film feels any different from the trailer, though I would caution those who have seen it by saying it is a case where I felt the best bits of the movie were included in the trailer. There are other moments that are funny throughout the film, but the film is not as consistently laugh out loud as the trailer might make one hope for. That being said, the comedy is certainly the strength of the film, and Gosling plays the more eccentric character to a T in contrast to Crowe’s straight man tactics.

I can’t say the plotting of the film ever impressed me. It’s a serviceable crime plot, but nothing which urges me to label the film as a notable neo-noir, even though writer/director Shane Black so clearly wants this to be that film. It just isn’t. His sense of humor brings levity to an otherwise violent and profane film, but the film becomes less interesting when the bullets fly and the roundabout twists and turns to the ultimate resolution failed to pay off for me. There is a compelling undertone to the film which, unfortunately, never gets explored at sufficient length. Healy begins to show a conscious after years of a grisly occupation, while March, the single father, is seemingly in a moral tailspin after the death of his wife. These men are searching for very different things at very different points in their life, but by sharing this case, they begin to find a semblance of a purpose.

To this point I feel as though I have not said much with great enthusiasm, nor spoken with much disdain for the film, and that seems about right for The Nice Guys. It is an entertaining film, but not one which is anything better than slightly above average. It’s a well made film, with decent performances, where Ryan Gosling’s physical humor highlights the proceedings. I think it could have done more with its characters and setting in 1970s Los Angeles, but the film that ultimately gets delivered is just fine, good even. And yes, Shane Black is once again able to shoehorn Christmas into his film.

*** – Good

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