The Nice Guys, 2016.
Directed by Shane Black.
Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger and Margaret Qualley.
When a debt collector catches up with his latest target, a hard-up private detective, they discover they’ve both been hired to find the same woman. As their paths keep crossing, they decide to pursue her together but, although they track her down, that’s just the start of the story. And their problems.
Russell Crowe isn’t the first name that springs to mind for a comedy. But in The Nice Guys, director Shane Black returns to much the same territory as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), so if Downey Jr. and Kilmer can do it……. And, with Ryan Gosling added to the mix, the result is a more mainstream offering, but with a gutsy humour all of its own.
And it starts as it means to go on, taking conventions from noir thrillers and gleefully up-ending them. The opening car crash is spectacular, with the family inside a house blissfully unaware of headlights in the distance. Next thing they know, the car ploughs through their home from front to back. The only passenger is a voluptuous brunette who, thrown from the car, displays her ample assets like a porn star. That’s exactly what she is, rejoicing in the name of Misty Mountains.
How this fits into the story doesn’t become apparent for some time, because we’re soon caught up in the happily complicated world of debt collector Crowe and private detective Gosling. Crowe’s preferred method for getting his targets to pay up is decidedly physical – Gosling’s arm ends up in plaster for the entire film – but at least he’s reasonably switched on. So when they discover they’re both trying to track down the same person, it makes sense for them to do it together. Although it doesn’t simplify matters.
But a complicated, zig-zagging plot is exactly what you expect from a noir and more so from a comedy one. Just like you expect a glamorous, enigmatic woman at the centre of the action. And you get them both, in true Raymond Chandler style, complete with the cynical tone and hard boiled humour. Gosling’s main motive for taking a case is money, pure and simple, even when the client is elderly and the case impossible. His young daughter (the very knowing Angourie Rice) makes an unlikely but embarrassingly useful assistant, part smarty pants, part angelic looking little girl. She provides plenty of laughs of her own, but there’s more to be had from Gosling’s clowning which is, at times, inspired. Especially when his character’s had a drink or five.
His partnership with Crowe is more successful than anybody could have imagined – Shane Black excepted. They’re complete opposites to look at. Crowe packs both a punch and a paunch in a pale blue leather jacket, while Gosling has modelled himself on a porn star, all droopy moustache and loud shirts.
Nostalgia geeks will love the 70s setting, which is played up to the hilt. The soundtrack, the clothes (all oranges, pinks and kipper ties) and cars are right on the button, as are the stores – Tower Records is still around – and the protesting hippies on the steps of County Hall. It’s all re-created with affection and fun but what it also does is eliminate any interruptions from mobile phones and computers. The not-so-dynamic duo has to figure out things without any help from a certain search engine. And it can be done.
This hugely entertaining riff on both noir and the buddy movie is full of chemistry between the two leads, great set pieces and whip-cracking dialogue. And, in case I haven’t said it before, it’s extremely funny. And even if Crowe and Gosling aren’t always nice guys, they’re certainly nicer than the bad ones – and far better company.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter, check out my movie blog and listen to my podcast, Talking Pictures.