Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Kim Basinger, Keith David, Matt Bomer
Director: Shane Black
The Nice Guys is neither fish nor fowl and is therefore not particularly satisfactory if you’re in the mood for either a blowout comedy or intriguing mystery.
This Russell Crowe-Ryan Gosling crime vehicle settles into an uneven hodgepodge that grows tiresome after about two-thirds of its 116-minute run, unable to commit to either being a screwball comedy or complex thriller and ultimately failing at trying to be both.
You can’t keep cracking jokes of varying degrees of funniness after a main character has been violently killed deep into the movie – it’s tasteless – and the weak plot and characters behind the whodunit need to be developed enough for viewers to actually care about the outcome, which doesn’t happen here.
Throw in a Disney-esque side story about a lonely teen trying to cope without a mother and you’ve got a lot of stuff thrown at the wall without much really sticking.
Shane Black, the director and co-writer, has experience at this type of thing – these buddy-buddy action comedies – with varying degrees of success. He hit the goldmine with the uber-successful Lethal Weapon franchise starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, which Black created when he was only 22 in 1987.
Then he wrote The Last Boy Scout with Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans in 1991, and The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996 with Samuel Jackson and Geena Davis, both of which were okay ventures and about as uneven as The Nice Guys, really.
In The Nice Guys, Ryan Gosling is the hard-drinking single father of a precocious 13-year-old whose mother died in a house explosion that Gosling may be had something to do with. He’s a not very good licensed private investigator of questionable morals, prone to dragging out his work to charge his clients extra.
Russell Crowe is an unlicensed investigator for hire who is more the enforcer type and struggles with trying to find the inner nice guy under his ass whupping thug persona. They both live and work in L.A. during the 1970s, when the American car industry was at the top of its game.
To a soundtrack of Motown music from the era, the investigators work on separate cases of a dead porn star and a missing young girl that overlap to the point that the two are forced to team up to find out why so many people are turning up dead and what this has to do with porn and the auto industry. Somehow, the 13-year-old is along with them every sordid step of the way.
Violence ensues and so do attempts at comedy. In a classic of the genre like Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte’s 48 Hours, the violence is real and the humor grows organically. The Nice Guys tries too hard to be funny. Russell Crowe is even-keeled and understated, but Gosling conspicuously, awkwardly tries to be the class clown, though he shows great comedic timing dealing with a bathroom stall after suffering a broken wrist.
There’s another funny moment when the two step off an elevator into the midst of all kinds of violent mayhem around them and do what any normal people would do. There’s also a great car crash to open the story.
But this is the kind of movie where the heroes have no bruise marks after intense knock-down-dragouts and the main bad guy can’t hit anything after firing hundreds of rounds from an automatic rifle.
Kim Basinger is underused to the point of not even needing to be in the film, and Margaret Qualley is so stiff an actress and so miscast playing a central character that it crosses your mind, now how exactly did you get this role, ma’am?
After a who cares resolution to the movie, Gosling and Crowe team up to start a detective agency, so there may be a sequel or two with follow-up capers. The Nice Guys is not terrible. It’s neither good nor bad, neither fish nor fowl.