Published on May 24th, 2016 | by Dan Gvozden0
THE NICE GUYS – REVIEW
In writer/director Shane Black’s (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) latest action-comedy flick, The Nice Guys, the best moments feature characters attempting to do something smart before falling-backwards, often literally, into appearing quite dumb. Unfortunately the same contradiction is true for the film, which presents itself as a wise-talking, truth-telling, detective film/expose on 1970’s Los Angeles politics but whose lazy-style and smug self-awareness lay bare its hollow core: soulless and lightweight.
The heightened, zippy language, delivered by an assortment of actors who’ve fully invested in being silly, attempts to replicate the unforgettable language of crime-novelist Elmore Leonard’s tales of Detroit and fuse it into Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective stories, as if told by Laurel and Hardy. It doesn’t always gel but it can be hard to outright reject this potent mix of stylistic influences, further reinforced by the indulgent culture of the smog-infused, color saturated, pornographic atmosphere of Los Angeles in the late 70s.
Private detectives Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) beat each other up before their inevitable meet cute leads them down the a mysterious and convoluted path to find a missing girl, Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who has gotten herself involved in the dirty politics of Los Angeles’ corrupt automobile and pornography industries.
The Nice Guys‘ opening scene is an excellent set-up for the film that follows, depicting a young child stealing his father’s nudie mag and ogling the bare-breasted centerfold, before said model crashes a car through his living room. She lays in his backyard, dying before his very eyes, laid out in the same naked glory as in the magazine he just stole, just with a lot more blood and car wreckage. There is a twisted, offensive, sick humor to this devilishly, scarring scenario – one can only the therapy this pre-pubescent teen may require – and strangely enough, the film presents it plainly and without a visual sting or musical comment, instead allowing the child’s silence and the crackle of the flames that lick the car’s totaled frame to slowly close the scene. Shane Black’s filmmaking never lets audiences know whether to laugh or be horrified by a moment like this (I laughed in a theater full of silence).
At first the lack of punch to The Nice Guys‘ various sequences of dark comedy seems intentional, as if to highlight the casual, grimy, beachy culture that still defines parts of Los Angeles. The Nice Guys is the kind of film where in the midst of a hectic, zany action sequence it will take time to show onlookers get accidentally caught in the crossfire but never gives a hint to audiences about how to feel about it. The film is never silly, stylized, sharply edited, or dark enough to land on one cohesive, solid visual or comedic statement; instead, relying on a little of each to carry the film. However, there a few moments when these various tones align for a moment of comedic brilliance, the kind one expects from a Shane Black film. In this case, that moment is a brilliant elevator escape overlooking the twinkling nighttime vista of Hollywood that’s interrupted by bodies falling from the sky.
The real backbone of this production is it’s A-list cast, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe headlining and doing just about everything they can to make their performances fun and surprising. Crowe is gruff and physical, as he has been in a majority of his previous performances, but it is Gosling’s willingness to be silly and throw himself through windows, off buildings, and at bathroom fixtures that manages to be the most rewarding. The editing isn’t tight enough to build to any kind of comedic cacophony for either character, but there’s certainly plenty to enjoy and nothing to fault about either actor, enough to desire that The Nice Guys was as flexible and daring as they are in their roles.
Shane Black’s script is loose and amiable on the surface but tightly structured underneath, with little details returning later in the film as important plot elements, but it does an unsatisfying job of building a mystery for its protagonists to solve. Resolutions to stories are shocking and smart but only in a way that makes the writer appear clever rather than reward the audience’s curiosity. Like Shane Black’s previous films The Nice Guys is a fun time hanging out with a duo of characters as they tackle an escalating crime, but its uneven tone and imprecise editing help expose a film that for all it’s witty dialogue, really doesn’t have much to say.