Title: The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black
Major Players: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice
Out Of Five: Four
You don’t, let’s face it, associate Russell Crowe with comedy. The two just don’t go together. Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, has done a few rom-coms in his time, but that’s about it. So how about the two of them in an out-and-out comedy? Strangely enough, it works – and works really well. Part of the credit has to go to director Shane Black, who’s back on much the same territory as his cult favourite, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). The Nice Guys is a more mainstream offering and, for my money, a better film.
Jackson Healy (Crowe) is a debt collector, whose speciality is beating up people for money. One of his targets is private detective Holland March (Gosling). He gives him the usual treatment, puts his arm in plaster and then realises they’re both supposed to be tracking down the same woman. For a while they go their own separate ways but, as their paths keep crossing, they eventually team up with each covering up the other’s assorted mistakes. The girl eventually shows up, but that’s nothing compared to the rest of their problems.
It’s a film that starts as it means to go on, taking a convention and doing something different with it. It’s evening and from inside a house a pair of headlights is visible in the distance. The next thing you know, a car comes crashing through the house, ploughing through from front to back. Its only passenger is a voluptuous brunette who, thrown from the car, displays her ample assets like a porn star. Because that’s exactly what she is, rejoicing in the name of Misty Mountains.
Not that it’s apparent for some time how this all fits with the rest of the story. And that’s because we’re soon entangled in something vaguely reminiscent of Raymond Chandler, with a glamorous, enigmatic woman at the centre of the action – here, there’s more than one – and a convoluted plot that only really makes sense to the private investigators. His cynical tone is there as well and, if that’s not enough to keep your attention, the film has plenty more tricks up its sleeve.
The setting for one, a joy for nostalgia freaks. This is the 70s and it feels like it, from the soundtrack to the clothes (all oranges and pinks and kipper ties) and the cars. Then there’s the stores – Tower Records is still around – and the protesting hippies on the steps of City Hall, demonstrating about pollution. It’s all re-created with affection and sense of fun, but better still it also eliminates any intrusions from mobile phones and computers. The tecs have to figure it out for themselves without any reference to Google – and, believe it or not, it can be done.
Secondly, there’s the humour and the partnership of Crowe and Gosling, which is more successful than anybody could have expected. Visually, they’re complete opposites: Crowe packs both punch and paunch in his pale blue leather jacket, while Gosling looks almost like a porn star with his droopy moustache and colourful shirts with enormous collars.
The humour itself is both black and noir. Gosling’s main motive for taking a case is money, and that doesn’t stop him taking it from an elderly client even when he knows that her case is impossible. His daughter Holly (a very knowing Angourie Rice) makes an unlikely assistant for her dad, part smarty pants, part little girl, while still managing to look as if she’s arrived fresh from a Disney set. And a lot of the laughs come from Gosling’s cock-ups. He can’t resist a free drink or five, which lands him in all sorts of trouble – and gleefully funny situations. Like the party where there’s a giant water tank, populated by girls dressed as mermaids for everybody to admire. Except that he wants to question them, so we see him pursuing them around the pool …….
The latter stages of the film single-mindedly concentrate on setting up the explosive climax, so all the Chandleresque style and humour are gone. And, while a bit more consistency wouldn’t go amiss, when you’re having this much fun, who cares? This is a hugely entertaining riff on the familiar buddy movie concept, although you wouldn’t call the two men buddies as such. But the chemistry is most definitely there, along with some whipcracking dialogue. Just in case I haven’t made the point clearly enough, it’s very funny. And consistently so.
Are they really nice guys? Well, if you look at the posters, perhaps not. But they’re a darn sight nicer than the bad guys!
The Nice Guys is released in cinemas on Friday, 3 June and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 2 June.