The Nice Guys is in the vein of The Long Goodbye and Inherent Vice, two brilliant films about private investigators in 1970s Los Angeles, even if it isn’t in their class. Shane Black’s film has nothing that approaches the ruefulness and stoner paranoia of Inherent Vice or the savageness of The Long Goodbye. If, however, you’re looking for nothing more than a fast, profane, aggressively silly comedy with neo-noir touches, The Nice Guys gets the job done.
Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private investigator hired by an old lady to find her niece, a porn star named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), whom she is convinced she has seen after the actress was declared dead in a car crash. Around the same time, a gruff “enforcer” named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is hired by activist-actor Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) to dissuade March from tracking Misty. Healy strong-arms March, but returns to hire him to find the now absconding Amelia. Soon they’re reluctant partners—a trio, if you count March’s precocious 13-year-old, Holly (Angourie Rice)—trying to piece together how Amelia is mixed up with the New York mob, Detroit auto manufacturers and the local porn industry.
Like Black’s feature debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), The Nice Guys celebrates the hard-boiled tradition even as it pushes it to satirical extremes. Both leads are warped versions of Raymond Chandler’s man who goes down mean streets “but is not himself mean”; they might cheat widows and kill the odd mobster but they’re essentially nice guys compared to the super-seedy LA environs they operate in. Noir fans will enjoy seeing Crowe, greyer and portlier now, reprise his blunt instrument act from L.A. Confidential; Kim Basinger, playing Amelia’s mom, might have been cast to further audience association with that film. But The Nice Guys belongs to Gosling, who conveys his character’s agitation with a straight face, while also displaying a surprising feel for slapstick comedy.
This review appeared in Mint.