Starting with a hilariously over-the-top prologue in which a car
careens through a hillside house to the amazement of a young boy inside,
coming to rest to reveal its dying driver—a luscious porn star named
Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Then it moves on to its stars.
Russell Crowe, with fifty or so extra pounds added to his already burly frame,
is Jackson Healy, is a fixer who employs his fists—usually outfitted
with brass knuckles—to handle problems for clients. At the moment he’s
been hired by a young lady named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to scare off a
guy who, she claims, is following her. The fellow turns out to be
Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a boozy private eye who specializes in fleecing
his (preferably elderly) clients while his precocious daughter Holly
(Angourie Rice) looks on disapprovingly. He’s in the employ of Misty’s
grandmother (Lois Smith), who claims to have seen the dead woman a
couple of days after her demise.
Healy roughs March up, but after he’s in turn accosted by a couple of
thugs (Beau Knapp and Keith David), they’re working together—their
rapprochement cemented in a hilarious bathroom scene in which Ryan Gosling
exhibits delicious skill at physical comedy—to track down Amelia, a girl
with a penchant for socially-conscious causes. The investigation will
take them to the burned-out house of her dead boyfriend, with whom she
made a mysterious “experimental” film; to a lavish party thrown by the
movie’s porno producer, who turns up dead; and to the office of Judith
Kutner (Kim Basinger), the head of the state’s Justice Department, who
turns out to be Amelia’s mother and also wants her found. As they
continue the search, however, they fall afoul of a slickly efficient
hit-man called John Boy (Matt Bomer). The plot winds up at a car show
where the new models are being exhibited at the same time that a
controversy about whether they should be equipped with smog-reducing
catalytic converters is being litigated.
It’s unlikely that most viewers will be able to tie all the plot
threads together, and the ultimate conspiracy scenario is pretty loopy,
considering what we now know of the US history. But it doesn’t really
matter. The Nice Guys is no thriller, and the lapses of logic are
frankly inconsequential. The movie is essentially a cinematic version
of an extended vaudeville routine for Crowe and Gosling, and on that
simple basis it works agreeably. Crowe gives the shambling
bruiser the air of a lovable lug, and his barely disguised exasperation
with Gosling is priceless. Gosling provides an engaging contrast. March
is unprincipled but devoted to his daughter, and Gosling plays his
doofus side to perfection. At one point he channels Lou Costello for an
extended reaction scene and nails it, while Crowe’s Bud Abbott looks on
incredulously. The physical attributes might be switched, but the
thin-chubby relationship is still there—just in reverse.
But it’s not just the stars who shine here.Angourie Rice proves an agreeable
helper, never allowing Holly’s precociousness to become obnoxious. Matt Bomer turns his matinee-idol good looks to the sinister side with
aplomb. Yaya DaCosta invests Kutner’s aide-de-camp with seventies
style, and while Kim Basinger never quite hits the mark, but there
are plenty of others to compensate: Beau Knapp and Keith David, with a swagger
that suggests an overheated take on Wait Until Dark. Also outstanding are Jack Kilmer as a
goofball projectionist, and even Lance Valentine Butler, in what amounts
to a cameo as an on-the-make kid on a bike. There's a jauntily retro score by David
Buckley and John Ottman and the pop song selections (not always
chronologically correct, but who cares?) that will grab audiences most.
The Nice Guys is simply a crowd-friendly spoof of old formulas and no less successful in evoking the spirit of
movies that might not have always been great, but were usually dumb fun.
This one is, too.