A mystery, buddy and odd-couple film with funny violence, oddball characters and an entertaining bewilderment at the center of an interesting story, The Nice Guys is one of the most original movies you can currently go watch in a theater. Seriously, just go.
Hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) uses brass knuckles to beat people to a bloody mess, though he says in a voiceover he would like to become a private investigator because they help people. Private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling), an alcoholic and a buffoon, has the words “You will never be happy,” with a smiley face underneath, written in permanent ink on his right hand. The two meet because aspiring porn star and political activist Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley) believes Holland is stalking her in a non-professional manner, and hires Healy to make him stop. Healy enters Holland’s home and fractures a few bones in his left arm. Then, Healy gets attacked at his apartment by two unnamed hitmen (Keith David and Beau Knapp) who are looking for Kutner, and believe Healy knows where to find her. He does not, and teams with Holland to find the missing porn actress. Her disappearance is linked to the death of fellow porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), believed to have committed suicide by crashing her car. At first, they are confused as to why people are getting murdered because of the release of an “experimental” pornography film, but then discover the problem is much bigger, involving corruption in the automobile industry and in certain counties’ justice departments.
The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling does not quite rival the friendship between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz, but it comes close. Their relationship keeps the more eccentric parts of the movie believable. Pay close attention when they are on screen together because you may miss something rewarding, especially when March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) is with them.
The Nice Guys is writer/director Shane Black’s third feature-length directing effort, and the first to not star Robert Downey Jr., but that’s no problem. The mystery is funny and fascinating. This film could have gotten too dark and too serious, but Black and his team keep the atmosphere humorous. Everybody in the theater laughed throughout the film.
Also, if you enjoy Christmas in Shane Black movies, you will not be disappointed.
The best part of The Nice Guys is the script, which Anthony Bagarozzi, in his first major project, helped write with Black. The dialogue is awesome. With the exception of a few minor character details, particularly with the villains, the plot is unpredictable. Black goes back to his roots, reliving his Lethal Weapon days—he wrote the first movie in that franchise and earned story credit for the second—as well as revisiting the weirdness of his feature-length directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Normally, I cannot stand these types of humor, but I laughed hard at all the slapstick and goofiness delivered in The Nice Guys.
Once you discover who’s behind all the murders, the movie gets truly messed up. Yeah, you just spent nearly one hour of consistent vulgarity and comic violence, but just wait, especially when you hear that person’s reasons.
The best character in the film is Holly March. She has some of the funniest lines in the movie, and does not get petrified in hazardous situations. Rice gives a good performance, and actually makes her character cool — despite being 13 — instead of what could have been the typically irritating child character that has been the death of many movies. Holly even helps work the Kutner and Mountains cases. Even though she disobeys her father, she is the moral center of the film, pointing out how messed up Holland is for drinking as much as he does, and that she hates him for gouging his clients. She also asks Healy if he kills people. He obviously does, but she does what she can by the end of the film to prevent him from killing more.
The movie also has good production values and action, things I did not expect from watching the trailer. Black and team make great use of the $50 million budget. The score by David Buckley and John Ottman is a nice addition to the film, organically going back and forth from jazzy 1970s-type of music to a more dramatic style.
Avoid the trailer at all costs. It spoils significant moments of the film, including the ending. The trailer for Nice Guys is a foremost example of advertisements telling you everything before you see the actual movie. One of the funniest scenes of the trailer involved two people falling from the roof of a building, but I only chuckled at that while sitting in the theater. This is not a joke — avoid the trailer.
Not much is wrong with the film except for a few nitpicks. The beginning of the film started out with a grainy effect that looked like the 1970s, but then switched to a modern style of cinematography. This is like starting with the cameras Inherent Vice was shot with, but then switching to the cameras used to film Dope or Straight Outta Compton. Not a major negative, but still weird.
This movie could have been a complete disaster. I did not expect scenes to fit together this well in the final product. Do what you need to do to get yourself to the theater and watch The Nice Guys.