The Nice Guys

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The most fun I’ve had in a theatre in a while.

The Nice Guys is a rare unicorn in the action movie world, combining atmosphere, kinetic visual comedy and a taut, hilarious script that constantly confounds the trope expectations of period action movies.

It’s set in the 1970s Los Angeles, with all the concomitant bells and whistles that come with depictions of that timespace – wayward porn stars, ethnically diverse mafias, decadent pool parties, suspenders, smog, cars made by American companies cruising around the streets.

Amidst all this, washed-out enforcer Jackson Healy (played mostly straight by the very apropos Russell Crowe) and moping private eye Holland Marsh (a very  funny Ryan Gosling), accompanied by Marsh’ feisty daughter Holly (a very precocious Angourie Rice) find themselves working together to solve the mystery of a missing girl: a case that soon spirals wildly out of proportion.

Director Shane Black, known for films like Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, helms this effort. His characteristic virtues are on prominent display here – snappy, whip-smart script, lean pacing, and high-octane action with a generous dose of comedy.

The script, especially, is one of the film’s greatest strengths. It’s snappy but at the same time filled with twists, jokes and unexpected developments that actually feel fresh and inspired. In a wasteland of action movies so generic that you can hardly tell one from the other, The Nice Guys stands apart and distinguishes itself with its humor-tipped originality. The humor in the script also has a shockingly high hit rate, with one or two hilarious standout gags (involving an ankle holster and a bee) that made me laugh until it hurt.

Of course, the film’s script is brilliantly delivered by its three stars – Crowe, Gosling and Rice. Crowe is the perfect fit for the glowering, tough-as-nails Healy but he manages to inject some moments of humor in his straight man role. Ryan Gosling is about as far removed as it’s possible to be from his stoic Driver persona in his last Los Angeles actionfest, Drive. In his more recent films (like The Big Short), he’s shown an ability to play a variety of comedic roles. The Nice Guys only continues this trend – and it in, Gosling displays an impeccable sense of comedic timing, both in dialogue and in action. Angourie Rice is also very effective as the group’s conscience and affective core – the resourceful but cuss-happy sidekick who feels more like a positive asset than a liability, as is sometimes the case with the addition of child actors in such films.

One less-than-salutary point, though: while the dialogue is taut and the plot unexpected, the overarching theme – that of institutional corruption and corporate irresponsibility – doesn’t really come through enough, although it was clearly the film’s thematic core. One imagines that amidst the hijinks that more grounded essence got somewhat lost in the shuffle, only to emerge somewhat weakly at the end. This is not a particularly consequential shortcoming, however. Films don’t need to be important to be excellent.

In all, ff ever a film deserved a sequel, it would be The Nice Guys. Crowe, Gosling and Rice make a winning buddy-cop group with their weird but irresistible chemistry. And the film does set itself up for one, too. But given the film’s failure to make up its budget from its box office takings so far, a Nice Guys sequel is probably somewhat of a pipe dream at this point. And that is really a cryin’ shame.

I give this film: 4.5 out of 5 experimental-film reels

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