THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE NICE GUYS"
The Nice Guys is sublime. It's been a while since a movie sent me out of the theater feeling so giddy. Director Shane Black (who co-wrote the script with Anthony Bagarozzi) was the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood during a fair portion of the 1990s. The often hard-boiled films he wrote – including The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Boy Scout – weren't always big hits, but his work was highly original. Black eventually moved behind the camera, directing the acclaimed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and bringing his uniquely dark comedic style to Iron Man 3. With The Nice Guys, he delivers his best work yet, mixing a seedy L.A. noir story with physical comedy. The result is like James Ellroy by way of Abbott & Costello.
Ryan Gosling plays low-rent detective Holland March, and Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a thug who beats people up for money. They join forces to find Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), a porn star who supposedly died in a car accident but may actually be hiding from some very dangerous individuals. The odd couple team starts following leads, quickly discovering that Amelia's adult film career was not entirely what it seemed. In one of the film's best gags, March's 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) keeps tagging along, uncovering better clues than the “professionals” do.
The Nice Guys works as magnificently as it does because it avoids telling the story in a conventional A-B-C fashion. The mystery of Amelia is, in many respects, not as important to us as it is to March and Healy. Instead, the movie weaves around, going on occasional humorous tangents before getting back on course. The approach is intentional. Black also purposefully throws in more than one wild coincidence, simply to give the plot an almost surreal vibe. For example, at one point in their search for Amelia, she abruptly falls from an indeterminate location and lands on top of their car. (That moment is in the trailer, so no accusations of spoiling anything, please.) The big finale, meanwhile, is a madcap sequence involving a film canister that improbably travels from place to place while multiple people pursue it. There's even a dream sequence that's here solely to set up a joke that subsequently allows an important discovery to be made. The absurd nature of the unfolding mystery creates an easygoing, don't-take-this-too-seriously feel that contrasts effectively with how seriously our heroes are taking their investigation.
This whimsically rambling quality allows us to focus on what The Nice Guys is really about: the character interactions. Crowe plays Healy as a straight man who is continually exasperated by March's bumbling ways. Gosling, meanwhile, gets to (brilliantly) do a lot of physical comedy, including a hilarious Lou Costello-ish bit in which March stumbles across a dead body and starts frantically wheezing as he attempts to call for help. The Nice Guys looks at how these two bold, yet vastly different personalities alternately clash and collaborate. Then, for fun, it tosses in the kid, who is just a tween but somehow still more grounded than either of the adults.
Crowe and Gosling generate phenomenal chemistry. The actors feed off one another with the efficiency of a comedy team that's been together for decades. Interactions between them are made funnier because of the unexpected little touches that they throw in. Sometimes it's a glance they share or the way their characters bicker when frustrated. When they're onscreen together, which is pretty much the entire time, The Nice Guys just lights up. Under their watch, the film is less about what happened to the porn star than it is about two hapless guys who discover that they gel in ways they could never anticipate. Angourie Rice adds some flavor, not only holding her own against two heavyweight stars, but often stealing scenes right out from under them.
There's additional pleasure to be found in the movie's slightly exaggerated '70s style, as well as the quirky little moments that punctuate the story. (A scene in which Healy and March take an elevator to the penthouse suite of a hotel, discover something untoward taking place, then gingerly retreat to the elevator is a perfect example.) There are familiar elements on the surface, but the way Black assembles them is anything but familiar.
The Nice Guys is frequently hilarious, often surprising, and consistently fun. There are some solid conclusions to be drawn. We need Ryan Gosling to do more physical comedy. We need Russell Crowe to do more comedy in general. And we definitely need sequels.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Nice Guys hits DVD and Blu-ray combo pack on August 23. Given how great the movie is, it's a little disappointing that there isn't more supplementary material on the disc. However, the two segments that are here do offer some insight.
"Always Bet On Black" runs five minutes and looks at the style of director/co-writer Shane Black. His penchant for mixing hard-boiled stories with off-kilter humor is explored. The stars appear to praise Black's style and discuss how much fun it is to inhabit one of his tales. "Worst. Detectives. Ever. Making The Nice Guys" is a six-minute look at the production of the film. Among the most interesting tidbits is that The Nice Guys was, at one point, going to be a project for television. Some cool behind-the-scenes footage is also present here.
The Nice Guys is a great looking film with a terrific '70s soundtrack. The Blu-ray has excellent picture and sound, which emphasize those qualities.
The Nice Guys is rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.
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