Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling on each his own haven’t done too many comedies, but this ball-busting detective story set in disco era 1977 might become a fan favorite that will gather a cult following over time. The Nice Guys has a line-up featuring lots of sleazebags, with a mystery that pivots around a dead porno actress and a burned down house, with also clues that point to the vanishing of a few reels of porn film of mystifying importance – this also ties into a Big Auto business conspiracy to suppress the catalytic convertor to reduce smog pollution. In place of classy detectives, we have two smart alecks for heroes.
Crowe’s dick for hire lately has had too many gigs socking guys in the face for hitting on underage girls, and Gosling’s private detective is the alcoholic type who always delays mystery solving so he can squeeze more money out of his clients. These two are a riotous duo, provided with a top-notch, if not quite air-tight script by Shane Black (the dude who took his college thesis “Lethal Weapon” and turned it into a famously high-selling script 25 years ago). Now Black is directing movies, this third feature by him is his most entertaining, a naughty and slaphappy action comedy with a number of big crack-up scenes.
I suppose I wish that the disparate mysteries of the plot didn’t come together in such a contrived way. Black, though, has a lot of wit, so even if your left-brain logic says it’s far-fetched, the porno deaths and corruption mess surrounding government and autos twists itself anyway into a comically daft contraption. But, forget plot if you will, for much of the interest really lies in the everyday details of a private eye’s work ethic. This duo seem to pluck witnesses at random, offering twenty bucks for information, and one presumes each guy walks around with a roll of twenties in their jacket pocket. Gosling’s precocious teen daughter asks smarter questions than he does anyway, such is the case when they are at a swanky film industry party, a sequence that keeps going and going and getting high on its kink and exuberance. The teen daughter (Angourie Rice, a winner) is told she shouldn’t get mixed up with the seedy adult world, but shrugs it off and does her thing.
One of the key witnesses is a porno actress in a yellow dress, and she’s always half-plastered and running away from the violence of a scene. She’s too much of a tart, even though she’s yes – just a porno actress – but one who is supposed to have a conscience. Matt Bromer plays a hitman going after her. Then there are more hitmen who are never properly introduced to the audience, and then some more seemingly unimportant characters end up having portents of significance. Black makes it enjoyable – if for brief moments baffling – for us to keep up with what’s going on.
What makes it all go done smoothly is the chemistry between Crowe and Gosling, who both begrudgingly start respecting each other’s methods when they’re not insult ribbing each other in that buddy cop chatter way that harkens back to, well, “Lethal Weapon.” As Gosling says, a pro is “nuanced” at this kind of work. I’m all for that.
118 Minutes. Rated R.
SUSPENSE-THRILLER / ACTION-COMEDY / LATE NIGHT THRILL
Film Cousins: “The Long Goodbye” (1973); “Dazed and Confused” (1993); “L.A. Confidential” (1997); “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005).