The 400-Word Review: The Nice Guys
By Sean Collier
May 24, 2016
The Nice Guys,” Shane Black’s action-comedy starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, is a good movie that avoided becoming a very good one. It is a visually sumptuous, often hilarious farce set in late-’70s Los Angeles — a great setting for an oddball detective caper such as this.
But Black, who also co-wrote the film with Anthony Bagarozzi, got what he was saying mixed up with what he wanted to talk about. The underlying theme of The Nice Guys is about childhood and innocence; Black has much to say about the early corruption of youth and the paper-thin line between a child and a (sexualized) adult.
Unfortunately, that theme made him write a kid into the movie, and she nearly ruins the whole thing.
Jackson Healy (Crowe) is an off-the-books enforcer who delivers messages via fists and stern language. Holland March (Gosling) is a somewhat bumbling private detective reeling from a series of personal tragedies; he’s got a bad alcohol problem and a precocious daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). March is employed to track Amelia (Margaret Qualley) down; she’s the daughter of a government bigwig with extensive ties to Detroit automakers. Healy is separately employed, by Amelia, to keep guys like March off of her back.
Initially, Healy does his job quite a bit better than March, breaking the latter gumshoe’s arm. But the pair separately discover that Amelia’s story is linked to that of a recently deceased (and possibly murdered) adult film star; as the cards begin to fall, the two decide to team up to unravel the strings.
Oh, but Holly is there. Always. When her Dad goes to check out a seedy party, she hides in the trunk and insists she can help. When March is going over things with Healy, she’s the third party in the conversation. This is decidedly to the detriment of the film; the scenes without Holly work, and the scenes with her do not. (I blame the writer more than the actress.)
And yet, The Nice Guys is quite funny, almost always entertaining and quite easy to watch (despite a lot of violence and bad behavior). It hearkens to Black’s noted work as an action screenwriter and improves on the swing he took with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I don’t think that the film’s flaws are enough to make me say you shouldn’t see it — but I know it might’ve been better.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark