Movie review: ‘Nice Guys’ delivers a blend of action and comedy
–We are in the midst of the summer movie season, and the releases are coming fast and furious. After a quiet first few weeks as “Captain America: Civil War” dominated at the Box Office, last Friday saw three new wide releases.
Among them were an animated feature based on a popular game, “Angry Birds,” and a comedy sequel, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” But the gem of the group was “The Nice Guys,” an action-comedy set in the 1970s.
Writer/director Shane Black has a feel for mixing action and comedy into an engrossing story. He first plied his craft as the screenwriter of “Lethal Weapon” and “Lethal Weapon 2,” moving on to craft the script for “The Last Boy Scout.” After a break, he returned in the early 2000s with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” before moving on to write and direct “Iron Man 2” for Marvel.
With “The Nice Guys” he returns to a favorite formula, a pair of mismatched partners on the trail of a case that is bringing plenty of danger and plenty of opportunity for one-liners. And in Ryan Gosling, Black has found a near perfect vehicle for his unique writing patterns.
The film is set in Los Angeles in 1977. The smog is thick, the fashions are questionable, crime is on the rise and the porn industry is picking up steam. Into that inferno steps Holland March (Gosling), a single father with a drinking problem, and Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe), a thug for hire. After the two meet under dubious circumstances, they find themselves thrown together by a common case — a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley).
March, Healey and March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), get drawn into the search. It takes them to a burned out house, a party in the hills and to Amelia’s mother (Kim Basinger), who works for the Justice Department. Along the way March and Holland put the pieces together and realize they’ve gotten into something much bigger, and more dangerous than they expected.
The question becomes if they can find Amelia and end the threat before it’s too late.
Black has a gift for writing these kind of stories where all the pieces at first seem odd and disconnected, but eventually come together in a fascinating way. He plies that trade to the story here, which he co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi.
The screen story also pays wonderful homage to both the city of Los Angeles — a familiar secondary character in Black’s work — and to the era. From the killer smog to the parties to the gas lines, the film takes right to a specific time and place that play crucial roles in the story.
But it’s the cast that really makes this film sing. Rice is great as Holly. She adds a lot of depth to the scenes and plays well off the two leads. She helps drive the story and becomes an essential character, serving as an emotional foil to both Crowe and Gosling in different ways.
This is a different kind of part for Crowe, who’s used to playing the big, heroic lead. Here he’s still heroic, and he still has an action part to play, but it’s a subtle and nuanced performance, too.
But everyone in the film takes a back seat to Gosling, who does so much in this role without even speaking lines. His delivery, his facial expressions and his physicality all work well here. He adds a great dimension of humor to the character that really helps the story pop on the screen.
“The Nice Guys” delivers on its promise. It’s a gentle blend of humor and action, has some nostalgic elements and tells an interesting story. It’s the perfect kind of film for summer that also manages to nail the tone and storytelling the whole way through, delivering a satisfying resolution, too.
“The Nice Guys” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use. Enter with caution.
Three stars out of four.