Past the Popcorn: Crowe Plays Straight Man to Gosling in The Nice Guys


by Jeff Walls

Hollywood veteran Shane Black got his start writing the screenplays for the Lethal Weapon movies in the eighties and nineties before finally directing his first feature with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  He then joined that movie’s star Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by writing and directing Iron Man 3, one of the franchise’s most contentious entries to date.  His new movie, The Nice Guys, is a return to the buddy-cop action comedy genre in which he first made his name.

This movie’s “buddies” are Jackson Healy and Holland March.  March is a recently-widowed alcoholic private eye with a penchant for squeezing more money out of his various clients than is necessary to get the job done.  He has been hired by an elderly woman to find her niece, who recently died in a car accident, but whom her vision-impaired aunt swears she has seen still alive.  March soon learns that the woman she saw was not the niece, but rather an aspiring actress named Amelia.  He sets out to find this Amelia, who turns out not to be the easiest person in the world to find.

the-nice-guys-insetEnter Healy, more muscle-for-hire than licensed detective, who is hired by the mysterious Amelia to discourage the men who have been following her.  The only name she has is March’s and so Healy pays the detective a visit.  After giving March something to remember him by, Healy himself is visited and threatened by the other men who have been pursuing Amelia.  Not a fan of being on the other end of the beatings, Healy then decides to hire March to continue his investigation into Amelia and the two soon find themselves involved in a scandal well over their heads.

Aside from the fact that Shane Black is one of the more interesting writer/directors out there, especially when it comes to the action comedy genre, the intriguing draw to The Nice Guys is the stars.  Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are both big stars with Oscar nominations to their credit—including a win for Crowe—but neither of the actors has ever really tackled a movie with such a goofy comedic tone as this one.

Crowe has a the blander role of the two—the straight man of the comedic team—and for this reason his performance comes off as much less inspired, but Gosling shines and provides much of the movie’s humor.  He shows off a talent for physical comedy in this movie that has not really been seen in his previous work, where his characters are usually in more control of their actions.  When he is confronted in a bathroom stall and tries to simultaneously keep a gun on his confronter, while trying to avoid being burned by his cigarette and keeping his swimsuit parts covered, Gosling has the audience in stitches.  He also has some wonderful reactions to the craziness that is going on around him in this movie, including possibly the best high-pitched squeal ever heard from a movie tough guy.

The movie has a lot of the elements that have come to make a Shane Black script a Shane Black movie.  The movie opens with narration from each of its protagonists, although that quickly dissipates, and the dialogue is witty and unique.  The plot also has numerous seemingly unrelated plot threads that all tie up together in the end.

The movie is not without its weaknesses.  A crazy shoot-out involving Matt Bomer’s hitman goes a little too over the top and doesn’t feel very consistent with the rest of the violence in the movie, and the bad guys are underdeveloped.  The plot threads also could have been tightened up a bit as the movie feels like it meanders at times.

Those flaws are easy to overlook, though, given that the movie is just so darned entertaining.  The visuals are crazy, the characters are fun, and the comedic moments perfectly fit with the tone of the movie.

The Nice Guys opens today at the Century Federal Way, AMC Kent Station 14, and AMC Southcenter 16. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Until then, eat local before you go!

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