They had me at the “Airport ’77” and “Jaws 2” billboards. Okay, they actually had me before that. But throughout Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys”, I was consistently enchanted by the film’s superior sense of period and style. And when our main characters were driving through a nighttime Hollywood landscape, dotted with those two giant advertisements, I was assured that this screenplay would be nostalgic and knowing. It had me flashing back, to a time when my 11th birthday was fading, while my 12th rapidly approached. Yeah, I was old enough to experience both the 3rd “Airport” and the follow-up to Spielberg’s “Jaws” in actual big city theaters (Jersey City, New Jersey–to be exact on place). “The Nice Guys” is wryly aware of what that era felt like. Visions of Nixon never felt so right.
A famous porn star monikered Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) perishes in a car crash through a residential home in the hills of Los Angeles. Or did she? Misty’s elderly aunt (veteran Lois Smith) insists that she’s seen her alive after the accident, so she hires private eye Holland March (a super Ryan Gosling) to figure things out. March is an alcoholic, widower father of a young daughter (solid Angourie Rice as Holly). And despite some unusual techniques and handicaps (Holland has no sense of smell), March determines that a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, aka: daughter of Andie MacDowell) is somehow involved. But Amelia is on-the-run, as well as the offspring of Department of Justice official Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger with gravitas)…and she doesn’t want to be found. So, she hires private enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, at the top of his game) to ward off March. However, despite initially breaking March’s arm as a warning, Healy and Holland inexplicably team up, to try to solve an increasingly convoluted mystery.
“The Nice Guys” is a violent, nasty, comedy, thriller, noir. And during a summer of under performing blockbusters, this one actually deserved to be a bigger hit. Mr. Crowe is marvelous here. A gruff, overweight teetotaler, whose outlook on life is bleak after a divorce (his wife was fooling around with his dad), Crowe embodies Healy with a delicate balance of toughness and vulnerability. He reminds us why he’s a great film actor. And Mr. Gosling provides the perfect foil as March. At times ridiculous, he still occasionally manages to hit the investigative bullseye. Even when his drunken behavior, and Lou Costello-like ramblings, threaten to get him, and his partner, killed. Shane Black has faced charges of misogyny and sadism before, and “The Nice Guys” won’t vanquish that image. However, he’s much too smart and intuitive to be dismissed. I really dig his 1970s retro noir. You’ve got to check this thing out.