Review by Louise Keller:
The ingredients are mouth wateringly good: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a mismatched odd couple in a retro 70s comedy action thriller written and director by Shane Black, the man who created the original Lethal Weapon in 1987. The tone is offbeat, the juxtaposition of ideas occasionally inspires and goofy moments entertain; yet overall the film never quite satisfies or rises to the level to which it aspires. The screenplay is to blame. But there is fun to be had in this rambunctious comedic film that keeps us guessing as blows are exchanged, bullets fly and two flawed individuals somehow find their mark together. As for the two leads, they play exceedingly well against each other.
The year is 1977 and the place is Los Angeles, where both Healy (Crowe) and March (Gosling) are guns for hire. Healy’s niche is punching guys who prey on young women, while March accepts pretty much any commission his PI badge brings in. According to March’s 13 year old innocent, ever-helpful daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), her dad is the worst PI in the world, which perhaps accounts for the fact that she keeps her eye on him. Rice is a lovely surprise, popping her head unexpectedly into all the action and getting caught up in the proceedings as a result.
From the outset we know that both Healy and March are struggling to hang onto the lowest rungs of their respective ladders. Crowe and Gosling have crafted their characters beautifully, delivering something we have not seen before from either of them. Crowe’s Healy may be all brawn and little style, but he has a twinkle in his eye; March’s inadequacies bring out the best in him. Gosling meanwhile, is goofy and earnest all at once as March accidentally tumbles from balconies, swims with party mermaids and stumbles over his own feet.
The story involves a porno star called Misty Mountain, air pollution activists and the making of an experimental film, whose star Amelia (Margaret Qualley) is the girl for whom everyone is searching. Amelia is a wonderful, almost mystical creation, wearing a canary yellow gown that is low cut at the front, rises high elsewhere and flutters in the breeze like an illusion. The body count rises as clues are followed and questions mount. Watch out for Kim Basinger who has a small but important role as head of the Justice Department with a keen interest in the case. The fun / sleazy side of Los Angeles is on display: there are wild parties with unicorns, red Indians and near naked girls whose rumps double as somewhere to place your drink. It’s the oddball nature of all the elements that are the film’s greatest rewards; with a better script, it could have been another Lethal Weapon.
Review by Andrew L. Urban
I would have been curious to attend the Cannes festival screening of The Nice Guys (screening out of Competition) just to see the reactions. It’s the sort of film that would have divided festival audiences (never mind the media) with its drunken lurches of tone from broad comedy, sharp satire, crazy farce and heavy drama – all wrapped in the quintessential American genre, the detective movie. Shane Black revels in these tonal differences and accentuates them – not something many filmmakers dare (or want) to do.
Adding to the schizo feel is that Russell Crowe plays it pretty straight as the enforcer whose physical force is his way of getting things done. By contrast, Ryan Gosling plays it more for laughs, farce even, as the loser private eye with a 13 year old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who seems smarter and nicer than her dad. Rice gives a ripper performance, and is destined for great things. The difference in the characters is perhaps partly accounted for by the fact that Shane Black created the Holland Marsh character (Gosling) while Anthony Bagarozzi, the co-script writer, created Jackson Healy (Crowe) before trading the characters back and forth.
In many ways the plot is secondary to the 70s ambiance of Los Angeles and the undercurrent of vice, corruption and sleaze. The motivations for the characters manipulating things are not just corporate greed – that would be too simplistic. Black introduces layers of misguided national pride through the character of Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), head of the Justice Department, mother of missing Amelia (Margaret Qualley) – and a staunch defender of the Detroit motor industry, whose behaviour is under the spotlight.
The film is full of spiky performances from a terrific cast of supports, from Murielle Telio’s leggy porn star Misty Mountains, to Daisy Tahan’s innocent young Jessica, Holly’s friend, Matt Bomer as cold bloodied John Boy, Yaya DaCosta as the surprising and striking looking Tally, and not least the wonderful Lois Smith as Mrs Glen, who plays a key role in the mystery of the Misty Mountain’s apparent death in a car crash which launches the film with something of a bang. Even Lance Valentine Butler makes an impression in his only scene as a boastful kid on a bike who sells information … and anything else he can.
If you like your films to zig zag for entertainment, this is an always engaging and edgy work, carrying Black’s signature elements of conflicting textures which created the sardonic action buddy comedy franchise, Lethal Weapon.