The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★½

Shane Black’s third feature film, after his tent-pole stint in IRON MAN 3 (2013), THE NICE GUYS returns to his home turf L.A. as in his palatable debut KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005). A retro-70s odd-pair comedy couples a stone-faced heavy Jackson Healy (Crowe, sizably ballooned in his physique, whether intentionally or otherwise) and a goofy private eye Holland March (Gosling), who are set to look for a runaway girl Amelia Kutner (Qualley), but soon discover several deaths happened to those who are connected to a porno movie made by Amelia, in defiance of her mother Judith (Basinger), a honcho in the United States Department of Justice.

Black is conversant with the genre ropes, apportions much physical endeavor to Healy, socking low-lives, close-range combating with pro assassins, and leaves the brain work to an ostensibly lackadaisical March, a single father perennially tailed with a premature teenage daughter Holly (Rice), who feistily teams with the duo in their children-improper outings (including a licentious party thrown by an AV producer), and coolly transforms into a dauntless heroine in the process of solving this desultory mystery.

Yes, the plot is half-heartedly baked, there is no need of audience to connect the dots, a timely cue always routinely pops up to keep the story rolling, no matter how far-fetched it seems (a cash-delivery mission is interleaved in a slapdash flurry without rounding off its suspicious corners), and an crucial character can be conveniently dispatched right after beans having been spilt, just because her mission is completed, or maybe because she is a gorgeous, idealistic fruitcake, doesn’t deserve a happy break?

However, what brings home to viewers is Black’s deft execution of a roller-coaster ride (almost) without brakes, under a minutely reconstructed milieu and location faithful to the ethos. Black pranks routine action schticks with unexpected but absolutely droll twists, e.g. the duo's put-on-an-impassive-face retreat in an elevator when body count is mounting thanks to a then-disembodied hitman Johnny Boy (Bomer, in a thankless uglified villain mould), peppered with wry Nixon jokes and wacky dream scenes; he also invigorates bravado with cracking gallows humor, for instance. when they are held at gunpoint by a vixen Tally (DaCosta), like father, like daughter, Holly can be madcap on some odd occasion.

The Gosling-Crowe interplay stimulates pleasurable chemistry and rapport under Black’s devil-may-care rein, especially Gosling, seems to have an inherent knack at comic timing, and the newcomer Angourie Rice, skillfully straddles both pockets of precociousness and greenness, altogether they form a unique two-dads-one-daughter triad (without a palpable gay context).

For nostalgist, THE NICE GUYS also marks a L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) reunion of Crowe and Basinger (who is another Botox victim borne out of the insecurity of aging) almost two decades later, Crowe can still lead a picture with his rotund but still agile figure, while Basinger can barely find a decent role to boost her waning career. The film doesn’t fare well in the box office front, which might hinder the prospect of a sequel so to speak, maybe the 70s milieu is chiefly appealing for the reminiscent and cinephile, lesser to today’s Millennials core audience, also justice doesn’t fully prevail in the end, and an almost nihilistic overtone doesn’t enhance its popularity either.