The Nice Guys | Blu-ray Review
Comedic neo-noir is difficult to achieve, not unlike a recent trend of popular hybrids sporting humor and horror as freely interchangeable elements, resulting in awkward or schizophrenic tonal shifts. Director Shane Black successfully accomplished this in 2005 with his debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang before falling into a swift hiatus, returning with popular franchise revival Iron Man 3 in 2013. He’s returned to favored territory with retro noir The Nice Guys, which features a winning pair of performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as odd couple private investigators accidentally wrapped up in the possible homicide of a famous porn star. Hinged on socially conscious subtexts regarding topical issues of the period a la Chinatown (1974) and unfolding with all the convoluted brazenness of something like The Big Sleep (1946), on a superficial level, there’s much to admire about the vivacious director’s latest effort, but any hard-edged comparisons to the films it pays homage to are incredibly slim. Despite mass critical praise following its premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival just days before its US release, those unfazed by the droll tone may find this to be an exercise which quickly and indefatigably wears out its welcome. A narrative filled with red herrings and other various distractions is revealed to be a disappointing non-starter, while otherwise enthusiastic exchanges between characters seem calibrated for passing amusement rather than contributing to the cohesiveness of the film.
In 1977 Los Angeles, adult film star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) dies in a fatal car crash. Days after her death, her geriatric aunt, Mrs. Glenn (Lois Smith) is certain she sees her niece leave her apartment when she arrived to clear up her belongings. She hires a hapless private detective, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who seems to be having a rough time after a recent divorce, charged with caring for his teenage daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who inadvertently moonlights as her dad’s secretary as situations sometimes demand. But the girl Mrs. Glenn saw is Amelia (Margaret Qualley), a young woman involved in a dangerous conspiracy concerning the auto industry, who recently crossed paths with Misty Mountains on a film production certain people are intent on keeping the details of hidden forever. When Amelia hires enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to take care of the people tailing her, she disappears, but not before Healy and March find themselves in over their heads and with a sudden vested interest in solving this increasingly complicated mystery.
Ryan Gosling gives the kind of winning performance honored by the Golden Globes in their comedy category, and he’s the definite bright spot throughout nearly every gag of The Nice Guys, as finely attuned to the necessities required for impressive physical comedy as a legion of professional alums. Cradling a broken arm from his first run in with Crowe for nearly the entire running time (again, kinda sorta like the nose bandage donned by Jack Nicholson throughout most of Chinatown), he’s the perfect comedic foil opposite a pair of straight man types, including Crowe and Angourie Rice as his daughter.
Rice, in particular, bypasses the usual clichés of the precocious teen formula, and she’s a definite scene stealer (which is more than you can say for an incredibly grating performance from Margaret Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell, here playing the damsel in distress, blustering all over Los Angeles like a weather beaten daffodil in a vintage yellow dress). Matt Bomer is defined by a running gag as a hitman who has the same mole as John Boy, the Richard Thomas character from “The Waltons,” while Kim Basinger, as luminous as ever, gets to be the steely head of the Department of Justice (although her character, alas, is disappointingly underwhelming). Black also seems to have lost his ear for peripheral dialogue as too many sequences feature extras uttering superfluous punchlines meant to generate laughs (like one in particular about fellatio and asparagus), moments so overly rehearsed they might as well have been snipped from a reality television treatment (and like most self-referential entertainment items formulated in/around/by Los Angeles, The Nice Guys is more narcissistic than realistic).
While mainstream markets remain slim on generating films for adult audiences, this mostly disappointing effort from Shane Black can be described much like the private dicks of the title—not exactly great, or even good, but ensures you’ll at least have a nice time watching it.
Warner Bros. presents their comedy hit (the title had a worldwide box office take of 57 million, with a budget of 50 million) in high-definition 2.4:1 with 5.1 Dolby Digital. It’s a glossy production all around, with DP Philippe Rousselot doing his best to shoot discreet Los Angeles exteriors (most of this was filmed in Atlanta), though period detailing isn’t always successful. A couple of extra features are included for further amusement.
Always Bet on Black:
Cast and crew discuss Shane Black’s skills in interviews and on set in this five minute segment.
Worst. Detectives. Ever. – Making The Nice Guys:
Screenwriter Anthony Bagarozzi and producer Joel Silver, along with Black and his two lead stars, speak about the progression of the project in this six minute bit.
A decade after his refreshing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black manages the entertaining but far less impressive The Nice Guys. But if you’re in the mood for an odd couple buddy movie with snippets of naked, busty broads between moments featuring witty rejoinders and a chase scene or two, this just might tickle your fancy.
Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆