Filmmaker Shane Black constructs his latest film, The Nice Guys, as a retro detective comedy where physical comedy and snappy, joke-filled dialogue masks the darkness of its Hollywood themes. Scripted by Black with Anthony Bagarozzi and produced by Joel Silver, the film is an anachronistic throwback to late 1970s Los Angeles and its underlying seediness surrounded by all the usual glitz and glamour.
Enforcer Jack Healy and Private Detective Holland March, played by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, make for a compelling dramatic duo and an even more enjoyable comedic pairing fitting their pulp inspired, hardboiled character names. The mismatched partners team up to find a missing person of interest, Amelia played by Margaret Qualley, and uncover a very convoluted conspiracy involving pornography, corruption, murder, and the Detroit mafia all leading to the breakdown of American idealism.
Angourie Rice as Gosling's thirteen-year-old daughter, a Nancy Drew type, gives a vibrant and fun performance playing foil to both men. She could easily be a distraction amidst all the adult themes and debauchery but her character is appropriately fleshed out. While mostly a three-hander, Matt Bomer shows up in a minimal but very menacing presence late in the film as a stone cold-blooded hitman while Kim Basinger fills another small role as Amelia's conflicted mother.
Black uses cop show troupes and the literal power of film and filmmaking to get across his pulpy themes of flawed men and unending conflict. However, as the film slowly works to resolve its uninteresting but serviceable story, the snappy writing and situational comedy somewhat falls apart despite starting off splendidly. It's really Gosling big, comic performance against Crowe's straightman reactions along with Rice's precocious presence that make the whole bumbling detective story so joyous.
Black, Crowe, and Gosling make The Nice Guys such an offbeat but refreshing buddy comedy thriller with enough stylish cinematic flourishes to pull mostly everything off. Luckily, the goodwill and charm of its cast and sharp writing carry the momentum largely forward to an open-ended finale similar to end of any crime procedural television pilot leaving all the winning elements intact for our heroes' next mystery adventure.
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