The Nice Guys go for a wild ride in down-and-out 1970s Hollywood. Fasten the seat belt and hold on tight.
There are moments when it looks like the entire cast, particularly (the heavyset) Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, are having a hard time keeping a straight face while delivering the spitfire dialogue and navigating the pratfalls. They’re having a good time with this rapid-fire comedic assault driven full-tilt by Shane Black, the mastermind behind Lethal Weapon back in the ‘80s.
Here Black returns to the Hollywood murder mystery territory he explored in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). It’s a solid mix of action and humor, Black’s forte. And those going along for the ride are in for a treat.
As for those strained straight faces, check out the scene in which the wife of Jackson Healy (Crowe, A Good Year) notifies him she’s been sleeping with his father. The winks and nudges are contagious reminders that this movie – which manages to also dig into some dark territory — is built to entertain. But those easily offended should likely stick to a repeat viewing of Civil War.
The Nice Guys is set in the not-so-nice 1970s, but the attention to detail is nice. Even the opening Warner Bros. logo reverts back to the ol’ red-white-and-black logo of the ‘70s. Billboards lining Hollywood Boulevard promote Jaws 2. The Hollywood sign is in shambles and it overlooks a city shrouded in thick smog while drivers also endure a gas crisis and queue up in order to fuel up. As bad as things might seem now, things really sucked back then.
The story revolves around the disappearance of a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, Palo Alto) and the death of a porn star named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio, The DUFF).
Enter two independent, low-rent investigators coming at the search for Amelia from different angles. Roger Ebert would’ve called this a “onesa” movie, albeit with a bit of a twist. One’s a down-on-his-luck sleuth raising a 13-year-old daughter on his own and dealing with the loss of his wife in a house fire. That’s Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive). One’s a down-on-his-luck sleuth dealing with the loss of his wife after she sleeps with his father. That’s the previously introduced Jackson Healy.
Neither one of these guys is nice. Really, they’re both pretty crummy guys. A lot of their pain and life turmoil is self-inflicted. But co-writer and director Shane Black is smart enough to know it’s important to make these shlubs accessible and relatable. No. They’re not nice. But they’ve got back stories weighing them down and explaining why they’re so miserable. It turns out they’re actually characters with some substance; they’re dealing with their own insecurities and self-doubts regarding their relevance to the rest of the world.
For Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi (currently collaborating on a new Doc Savage movie), it’s all a dance of sorts.
At one moment, Jackson teases Holland about his lack of a sense of smell. A little later on, that source of humor reveals itself as a catalyst for tragedy.
That dance is repeated at different tempos throughout The Nice Guys.
Porn is exploited. The automotive industry is exposed. Alcohol and other drugs are suspect.
There’s a bit of a movie-within-a-movie here, so appropriate for a movie set in Hollywood. It’s called How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy? It’s porn with a plot. A low-budget, homemade skin flick with art house ambitions intended to out the evildoers in Detroit effectively killing millions with smog-projecting automobiles. (Look for Gil Gerard, the semi-svelte Buck Rogers in 1979, almost unrecognizable as a heavy.)
As the all-knowing Holland March foresees it, though, we’ll all be driving electric cars in about 5 years.
Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles
In the hands of somebody named Seth (MacFarlene or Rogen), this material would likely be nothing more than raunch; maybe sophomoric instead of sophisticated.
In the right hands, such as they are here, the pieces gel into a solid whole that looks back on a not-so-happy time in U.S. history and serves as a reminder that we’ve come a long way, baby.
Black is pretty progressive — he reportedly wanted the Guy Pearce villain in Iron Man 3 to be a woman, but the notion was kiboshed by Marvel in favor of (theoretically) stronger toy sales by way of yet another male villain. A few years later, in the wake of Rey in The Force Awakens, even more attention is being put on girl power — to the point where Harley Quinn, a legendary bad girl in Batman lore and co-starring (in the form of Margot Robbie) in the upcoming Suicide Squad, might very well get her own movie.
It’s not really a surprise, then, that Black turns another notion upside-down. The voice of reason in the thick of the sex and drugs is that 13-year-old girl, Holly March (Angourie Rice in quite a breakout performance). She’s also the moral conscience to be shared by the two “mature” sleuths.
It’s an uneasy experience at first. But the movie starts off feeling its way through fresh territory. It’s time to move away from sequels and reboots and for audiences to be introduced to wholly-new characters with new situations. It takes time to establish them, their world and their boundaries, but the payoff is well worth the effort.