The Nice Guys
Perhaps one of the biggest cinematic surprises of 2016 is the reality that Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are just as adept a comedy duo as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. While Gosling goes for broad slapstick physicality so flawless he might as well be Bob Hope himself, Crowe goes for effortlessly timed deadpanning to rival Bill Murray’s, and together do they bring a throwback sort of bromantic rapport to the screen proven to be irresistible.
Standing as the third film of writer/director extraordinaire Shane Black (who revamped the buddy cop genre when he wrote Lethal Weapon in 1987 and who refurbished the caper movie back in 2005 with the wonderful Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), The Nice Guys stars Gosling and Crowe as Holland March and Jackson Healy, respectively bumbling detectives brought together through a mutual connection to a case impeccably dressed in conspiracy and intrigue.
Their person of interest comes in the form of Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), a fading pornographic actress who promptly dies in the wake of a bizarre car accident. Because the money-for-sex industry isn’t much of a stranger to big stars dying young, things don’t seem all too out of the ordinary in the public eye. But then March finds himself linked to her demise following his being approached by the woman’s elderly aunt (Lois Smith), who claims to have seen Misty alive since. March isn’t so inclined to take her assertions seriously until he discovers that a missing local girl with ties to the Department of Justice, Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), is somehow associated. From there does he do his best to play Philip Marlowe just four years after Elliott Gould portrayed him in The Long Goodbye.
Trouble is is that Amelia is less missing and more little girl lost who doesn’t want to be saved. And so she hires Healy, a specialist in the art of physically shutting people up, to effectively get March to finalize his attempts in trying to locate her and move onto a different case. Healy’s violently showing up at March’s humble abode is plenty persuasive, but when the former’s attacked by Amelia searching thugs himself later that night, he reluctantly suggests partnership between himself and March. The latter, more reluctant than Healy could ever be, nevertheless agrees.
So begins a hazy quest through the extravagant co-cultures that comprise the kitschy 1977 Los Angeles in which the film is set, oftentimes reading as a wild goose chase but other times reading as a cryptic puzzle begging to be solved. Aside from an ending that suggests that tying up loose ends is much harder than merely going out with the bang that is a climactic shootout, we very much want to solve that puzzle at the forefront of the movie. In The Nice Guys do we have a lip-smackingly confident detective comedy that dramatically rises in its lovability the more complicated things get and the more zany Gosling and Crowe’s performances become.
Reminiscent of the Lily Tomlin/Art Carney headed The Late Show (1977), in itself an extraordinarily fun romp about an odd couple venturing to solve a crime, The Nice Guys goes far and wide with the snappy hilarity that flavors Black and Anthony Bagarozzi’s pitch perfect screenplay and the breathless chemistry between Gosling and Crowe. Its storyline may be convoluted — comparable to 1998’s unfollowable The Big Lebowski (although The Nice Guys does manage to make some sense if you try your damnedest to give your full attention to its every movement) — but its entertainment value is so fluent that it doesn’t much matter to keep oneself up to date in regards to character motivations and supposed plot twists.
I suppose such is a sign of the exceptionality of the leads (and the fifteen-year-old Angourie Rice, as March’s spunky daughter, who's the finest supporting player of the ensemble) and Black’s in-control swagger, but I’m also not keeping score nor playing favorites. A pinnacle of 2016 it is — it’d maybe even be among the best if its finale weren’t so messy. But all is good enough for now, and there’s little more I can ask for in this decade’s closest thing to The Thin Man (1934). B+