The Nice Guys is a charming and effervescent throwback to the buddy-cop films of days gone by. Prepare to meet the new Riggs and Murtaugh…
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
“They simply don’t make ‘em like they used to”. It’s a cliché oft repeated by moviegoers of a certain age, and one that you’ve probably heard slip from the lips of your parents or grandparents at one point or another. 99% of the time, they’re probably right. But that 1% where they’re proven wrong? It belongs to Shane Black’s latest movie, The Nice Guys.
A rough-cut gem that partners Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a Laurel and Hardy-inspired buddy-cop duo, The Nice Guys feels like it’s been pulled through a wormhole from a bygone era and dropped into a blockbuster season usually reserved for bombastic superhero clashes and unwanted remakes. It’s by no means perfect, but it does have one key ingredient that sets it apart from the crowd – a wholly original and refreshingly uncouth screenplay (that Black penned himself) brimming with a potent concoction of crude humour and weighty character drama.
Much like Black’s previous work in the buddy-cop subgenre, The Nice Guys pulls together two opposing actors to form an amusingly mismatched duo; Gosling plays Holland March, a dim-witted single father turned private investigator, whilst Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a gruff enforcer-for-hire. These two reluctant heroes team up to solve a string of murders plaguing the Los Angeles porn industry, as well as the somehow connected disappearance of Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley).
Whilst the plot itself is nothing to write home about, the peerless execution and enthusiasm for authenticity is what carries The Nice Guys home. The film is an absurdly perfect recreation of 1977 Los Angeles, to the point where you can almost smell the liquor fumes and pollution oozing from the screen. The cars, costumes, sets and soundtrack (which includes Earth, Wind and Fire, naturally) intertwine to make LA a fleshed-out character in itself.
Gosling taps into his funny bone once again to bring most of the laughs, but both his and Crowe’s characters are underscored with backstories that allow the film to transcend straight-up buffoonery. Black blends satire, slapstick and stirring emotion to great effect, often in quick succession. It’s a testament to his screenplay and the versatility of the two leads that the tone doesn’t feel uneven or jarring at any point during the 116 minutes runtime.
And yet, it’s Perth’s own Angourie Rice who outshines them all as March’s sassy 13-year-old daughter Holly. Her character is reminiscent of Chloe Grace Moretz’s Hit Girl from Kick-Ass: wise beyond her years, armed with a razor-sharp wit and eager to tag along and help crack the case. Again, it’s Black’s smart prose that allows her character to actually elevate the material rather than instantly grate.
The narrative loses its way somewhere in the middle third as various twists, turns and reversals steer the plot into needlessly convoluted territory, but The Nice Guys is ultimately relying on you having too much fun to notice. The laughs are frequent, often stemming from masterful writing that builds towards a single knockout crescendo – or maybe just a simple, silly gag. It’s a varied and freewheeling film that showcases the best bromance this side of Captain America: Civil War, and if Black delivers on his promise of a follow-up, you can be assured I’ll be queuing to catch another slice of the madcap action.
The Nice Guys is available in Australian cinemas from May 26
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films