As of this writing, if you were to look up “The Nice Guys” on MetaCritic, you would see a rating of 68 percent positive, which is a good descriptor of the movie itself. While it is not a complete waste of money, a lot of its potential was left on the table and unfulfilled.
Writer/director Shane Black made his name in Hollywood during the 1990s,
writing some of the best buddy/action films of all time in the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, as well as “The Last Boy Scout,” “Last Action Hero” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” As the 20th century gave way to the 21st, Black moved his talents from the writer’s room and began pulling double duty as a director. The results thus far have been mixed, starting with the excellent “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” followed by the abjectly terrible “Iron Man 3.” With “The Nice Guys,” Black is clearly trying to tap into the formula that made his name in the first place, but the results are starting to show their age.
Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a Los Angeles tough guy who gets paid to rough people up for various real or perceived wrongs. As the movie opens, he is sent to the house of private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to try and convince him not to pursue his most recent cases which involves tracking down a young lady named Amelia (Margaret Qualley).
Those who are familiar with Black’s brand of writing, particularly “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” will know that trying to describe the plot of “The Nice Guys” is a confounding experience because, in the case of those films, there are multiple story lines bending and twisting around one another, eventually converging in a fast-paced climax that brings everything together at the finale. But in the case of “The Nice Guys,” the various threads that Black weaves — which include Detroit auto makers, the catalytic converter, the Department of Justice and pornography — never really gel into something that makes any more than the barest sense.
But the film is still more good than bad. Crowe and Gosling have amazing chemistry together, and Black does a marvelous job rejuvenating the “buddy cop” genre with his two main characters. The film, set in 1977, has a marvelous aesthetic, and the script manages to be just funny enough — and just bizarrely vulgar enough — to hold your attention throughout, even as the plot jumps further and further off the rails.
But at the end of the day, the flat story is what most people are apt to remember. Even the best characters in the world are of little help when the story makes no genuine sense, and “The Nice Guys” is saddled with a plot that is paper-thin in the best of times and completely inscrutable at its worst. Crowe and Gosling make the film far more entertaining than it probably deserves to be, but the stream of consciousness direction will make the overall experience feel disjointed and mildly confusing throughout.
Black was clearly hoping to capture the same lightning he found with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” a decade ago, but what he has ultimately given us feels more like a lesser director’s attempt at combining that film with Director Edgar Wright’s (“Shaun of the Dead”) visual aesthetic. The result is often funny and generally entertaining but ultimately forgettable. CV
“The Nice Guys”
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Kim Basinger