The Nice Guys is a real throwback cop buddy action comedy that stacks up with the best of them.
Jackson Healy and Holland March (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) are a couple of bumbling private eyes in 1977 Los Angeles, whose paths cross during an investigation and have a confrontation. Eventually they team up to look for a missing woman somehow connected to the apparent suicide of a porn star. An even more bumbling bad guy is also looking for the woman, so their investigation becomes more urgent.
This is the funniest either Russell Crowe or Ryan Gosling has ever been on screen. The Nice Guys is written and directed by Shane Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon, which (along with 48 Hours) created the genre. Lethal Weapon is a classic (and I say that having re-watched it recently), but I think The Nice Guys is a better movie. It will be at or near the top of any list of the funniest movies of the year.
The movie also avoids the predictable arc of the typical cop buddy plot. Healy and March spend most of the movie searching for a woman named Amelia (played by Margaret Qualley, who is Andie MacDowell’s daughter), but how that search is ultimately resolved is unexpected and darkly funny. You’re actually jarred from the formula for a moment and think to yourself – wait, that’s not what happens in these movies. But Shane Black kind of invented this type of movie, and he can rewrite if he wants. From that point on, Crowe and Gosling are in search of a film reel that functions as the McGuffin, resulting in an action climax that stays just on the right side of slapstick.
The only thing I can think to take issue with are the bad guys. Blueface (played by Beau Knapp) and John Boy (played by Matt Bomer) are both played over the top, and are almost comic book villains. There isn’t a real sense of menace with either of them. However, I have a sense that they will seem even funnier on repeated viewings, and this is a movie that easily lends itself to repeated viewings.
Apart from the zippy writing and unexpected plot developments, one of the most enjoyable things that sets this movie apart from typical movies in this genre is the role of Holly March, playing Gosling’s 13-year-old daughter. She is equal parts Anna Chlumsky in My Girl, Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver, and Penny from Inspector Gadget. She is a better detective than her father and has some of the funniest lines in the movie. She is played so well by Angourie Rice, I expect we’ll be seeing her in a lot more movies.
Comedy and action are underappreciated genres, but The Nice Guys is one of the most enjoyable movies of the year.