Shane Black has done fantastic things with buddy movies. “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and “Iron Man 3” all show off his writing talent and the last two offer up his directorial skills as well. So, combining his skill with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe feels like it all add up to something pretty special and “The Nice Guys” is good, but by only being good it ends up feeling a little disappointing. Watching the movie and lightly chuckling along with it one has the unmistakable sense that there ought to instead be huge guffaws instead.
The tale in “The Nice Guys” revolves around perpetually drunk and morally questionable private eye, Holland March (Gosling), being forced to work with good human being with the questionable day job of beating folks up, Jackson Healy (Crowe). They don’t really know what the case their working on is, but it has something to do with finding a missing woman, Amelia (Margaret Qualley); a dead adult film star, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Then the government, in the form of a Justice Department honcho played by Kim Basinger singer gets involved and it gets even more murky (or is supposed to anyway).
Delving any further into the plot would not only ruin some of the jokes but also lessen some of the twists and turns. Beyond that, it would also cause the whole thing to unravel. “The Nice Guys” is so much less about the case—which is built on coincidence, ridiculousness, blind luck, and lazy plotting—than it is about watching March and Healy fumble their way through life alongside March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice).
It isn’t just that the situations are improbable, it’s that they’re so far past probable that the movie has to make a joke about how March keeps escaping without insane injuries. And, it certainly feels like that was the order in which these things were devised – that Black and Anthony Bargarozzi got to a certain point in their script, realized that March had gotten away with a lot more than a human being could, and made a joke to explain it away rather than figuring out more plausible scenarios for the character.
The amazing thing about “The Nice Guys” is that it works as well as it does. The kudos for making that happen lie squarely with Crowe, Gosling, and Rice. All three do great work even if the parent in my questions some of the language Rice uses and the scenarios in which Holly finds herself.
What I keep coming back to, however, is that as good as the characters are, just as with the plot, the dialogue leaves something to be desired. “The Nice Guys” is a film that is carried by charisma, charm, and every so often landing a decent joke.
The movie also lacks deftness when it comes to its action and shootouts. Hired killer, John Boy (Matt Bomer), is out to get March and Healy and has unlimited bullets which he fires off with reckless abandon. The notion that he wouldn’t care who he kills is fine, but the idea that he can’t get March and Healy with that many bullets is farcical. Unfortunately, “The Nice Guys” doesn’t play it as farce. John Boy is supposed to be great at his job, but he’s incompetent when it comes to accomplishing his goal of getting the leads and the film can’t even muster the strength to offer jokes about it. There are other thugs (played by Beau Knapp and Keith David) who are comical and who do a great job at being incompetent for laughs. “The Nice Guys” is able to recognize the status of these smaller characters but, perhaps because it needs a real threat for March and Healy, can’t see John Boy as humorous in anything but his “Waltons” derived name. It lessens his impact and hurts the film.
Due to the loose plot, not-quite-snappy-enough dialogue, and problematic bad guys the not particularly long runtime, just under two hours, of “The Nice Guys” feels far longer. There is a lot of slack that could have been taken in, making it a far more taught, far more enjoyable, film.
And yet, for all that, it’s pretty good. It’s relatively fun. It’s relatively light-hearted. It’s relatively comedic. It’s relatively clever. It’s relatively an enjoyable night at the movie. It just should have been better.
Maybe we’ll get a sequel and the next one will be.
photo credit: Warner Bros.