THE NICE GUYS. Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Matt Bomer. Directed by Shane Black. 96 minutes. Rated MA15+ (Strong violence, sex, nudity and coarse language).
Early in the film’s second act, our mismatched protagonists – enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling) – go clue hunting at a debaucherous 1970’s L.A. party. The costuming and set design care not for a realistic portrayal of the period, estimating instead a mad man’s demented idea of what the time represents to modern audiences, filtered through decades of popular culture, littered with outrageous outfits, plastic decor, human sculptures, funky tunes and campy colours. The sequence is fast paced, funny and stylish, and gives the veteran cast ample room to flex their comedic chops and formidable chemistry. Like the rest of the picture, it is a joyous cinematic journey, crafted by people who know exactly how to give an audience what they want while still toying with expectations.
Our lead duo first meet when Healy is hired by stalking victim Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to frighten March off her tail, who is investigating her in relation to another case. Their encounter does not end well for March’s wellbeing, emerging with some bruising and a broken arm. However when Amelia is reported missing, possibly embroiled in the death of a famous adult film star (shown in the movie’s bold opening scene), Healy pairs up with March to track her down.
The film was co-written and directed by Shane Black, best known for writing a swathe of knowing comedy-action flicks in the 80’s and 90’s, including ‘Lethal Weapon’, ‘The Last Boy Scout’ and ‘Last Action Hero’. Black is a sure hand at the helm here, delivering another dynamic duo to stand alongside Murtaugh and Riggs in the pantheon of buddy movie pair-ups. The repartee between Crowe and Gosling is terrific, and has been front and centre throughout the film’s marketing campaign. Both actors are the funniest that they have ever been here, delivering barbed quips with verve and bite. Also along for the ride is March’s daughter Holly, played by the preternaturally gifted Angourie Rice. Holly is a sweet kid, and makes for a winning contrast with the murky morals of her father and his new partner.
As the mystery begins to unfold, the guilt begins to spread further into the corridors of power (as any respectable noir mystery knows it must!). Amelia’s mother (Kim Basinger in a welcome albeit brief role) is working to prosecute auto manufacturers in the Department of Justice, and may know more about her daughter’s disappearance than she lets on. Healy and March must race against time to save Amelia, who has fallen into the crosshairs of bogeyman-esque ‘John Boy’. The thing is, they may inadvertently fall into his sights themselves. The plot is a very deliberate throwback to the noirs of old, and even when ticking off the requirements of traditional noir, the film does it with such glib self-awareness that even the most predictable machinations still manage to withstand the mayhem going on around them.
Bursting with violence, obscenity and profanity, ‘The Nice Guys’ is not so nice. However, Filmgoers who appreciate their humour black (or should that be Black?) and their films fun above all else will have a rollicking good time. This reviewer certainly did. Surrender to the film’s confidence and be swept along on its journey.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out May 26.