The Nice Guys is your standard Shane Black neo-noir buddy comedy with a '70s retrofit but that's no bad thing. The film is a wild and seedy ride from the top of the derelict Hollywood sign, through — occasionally literally — the deluxe shag pads of Beverly Hills, and all the way down through the mean streets of L.A. The buddies in question are not mean per se, though they are respectively afraid and tarnished.
Ryan Gosling plays shrill, ineffectual P.I. Holland March who drinks like a fish — if the fish in question were a just-about-functioning alcoholic — and whose most notable trait is a Looney Tunes-like ability to bounce back from a beating (or a fall or a self-inflicted severed artery after trying to punch in a window). Even his precocious daughter Holly is exasperated: "You're the world’s worst detective". He’s the opposite of your classic hard-bitten P.I. Bogart would have eaten him for lunch. Even Elliott Gould's stumblebum Phillip Marlowe might have been tempted to give him a slap.
The hardbitten-ness comes vis-a-vis Jackson Healy, played by Russell Crowe, a wry, stocky bully-for-hire who ekes out a living delivering warnings to deadbeats, stalkers, and, on this occasion, Holland March. The warning Healy delivers to March — complete with a helpfully pre-diagnosed spiral fracture — comes courtesy of Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), an insufferable rich kid environmentalist whose sudden disappearance seems to be connected to the recent death of a porn star and the Detroit automotive industry.
More than just the eminently quotable one-liners we’ve come to expect from any Shane Black joint — “I had to question the mermaids!” — The Nice Guys also features some impeccably orchestrated physical comedy. There’s a bit of a slapstick involving a gun, a cigarette, and a toilet stall door that’s up there with Abbott & Costello. The plot is more than vaguely similar to Black’s directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: egregiously bad parenting and porn-related hijinks are a recurring theme, as well as the obligatory ill-timed discovery/disposal of a corpse.
This only matters, though, in the way that plot mattered in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye — a clear influence here — or P.T. Anderson's Inherent Vice; in that it more or less just provides opportunity for various thrills and spills. This orchestrated chaos happens to feature a henchmen who bares an uncanny resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen, another who’s a dapper psycho (played by Matt Bomer no less) named for one of The Waltons; a Pam Griers-alike, Tally (Yaya DaCosta); a putty-mouthed Kim Basinger (reunited with Crowe, her L.A. Confidential costar); a giant talking bee; and Richard Nixon.
The Nice Guys is darkly comic, hilariously bloody noir in which bystanders take stray bullets and every neighbourhood kid’s a potential grifter. Cynical yet strangely good-natured, the film even has something vaguely resembling character arcs for both its leads. Unpredictable and scattershot, it certainly solves the case of what you should go see in the cinema come June 3rd.