Michael Adams helps you decides whether it’s worth doing your dough on Gosling and Crowe’s new buddy flick.
Back in the 1980 and 1990s, the combination of violent action and rude comedy made for box-office gold in the likes of 48 HRS, Beverly Hills Cop, Fletch, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, which all spawned blockbuster franchises.
The king of this hybrid genre became writer Shane Black, who, having made his mark with Lethal Weapon, earned superstar bucks for helping to craft its sequels, along with The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Though his style fell out of favour after Long Kiss flopped, he kept the faith and made his comeback a decade later as writer-director of the awesome Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which also helped redeem then-untouchable Robert Downey Jr.
While Black put some wit and visual spark back into their next collaboration, Iron Man 3, it’s clear that his passion remains with cops, crime and comedy, all on copious display in The Nice Guys.
Set in LA in 1977, this is neo-noir as bloody slapstick—think Chinatown cast with Abbott and Costello.
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling—neither particularly known for their comic chops—bring out the best in each other as enforcer Jackson Healy and private detective Holland March.
This odd couple—along with Holland’s daughter Holly—team up to find missing girl Amelia, who’s seemingly an anti-pollution activist and an amateur X-rated star.
Much mayhem ensues on the mean streets.
Seeing Hollywood’s seamy underbelly in conflict with Detroit’s automotive monopolies is one of the film’s pleasures, with Black relishing the chance to poke fun at—and put bullet holes in—the two essential American industries: porn and cars.
The violence is abrupt and bloody, so that we shudder, both in revulsion at its impact and with laughter at the various ironies at play.
The film’s other comedy is all over the place, though in a good way, with loosey-goosey Gosling taking most of the funnier lines (his idiotic historical and linguistic asides are a good running gag), and physical moments (his toilet and dead-body bits are classic comic bits) while Crowe is gruffly gracious as the straight man and tough guy.
There’s a solid support cast—Aussie newcomer Angourie Rice shines as Gosling’s feisty daughter; Rusty’s L.A. Confidential co-star Kim Basinger is chilly as Amelia’s mum—and colourful period detail in the funky fashions and musical cuts.
But, as with all great noir, there’s also pervasive grimness beneath the surface grime, with LA painted as a polluted city where paedophiles prey regularly enough to make repelling them an industry for Jackson.
The Nice Guys is a lot of fun as a smart shaggy dog story that offers a rollicking chase for it own narrative tail.
Unfortunately, in a market besotted by comic-book adaptations, it hasn’t been a box-office hit.
But its performance has been solid enough that HBO should seriously think about a TV version, turning Ryan and Rusty into the new Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.