Watching writer-director Shane Black’s neo-noir comedy makes you feel naughty, like you have sneakily eaten the last piece of cake your mother told you not to touch, or jumped to the end of a thriller to find out whodunit.
It’s the bit like the boy in the opening scene of The Nice Guys, creeping into his parents’ room at night and tiptoeing out with a nudie magazine. Just as he’s marvelling over centerfold Misty Mountains, a car comes crashing through the house. It’s an audacious scene that sets the tone for the silliness that’s to come.
Opening in 1977 in Los Angeles, The Nice Guys is Boogie Nights meets Starsky & Hutch. Private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe) are working on opposite sides of the same case but unite when they realise that a larger game is afoot. The crime revolves around dead porn star Misty, the missing woman Amelia (Margaret Qualley), and some scary heavies who want Amelia found and killed. There’s also Kim Basinger (an obvious homage to the neo-noir LA Confidential) as a high-ranking official of the Justice Department with a twisted view of right and wrong.
March and Holland are both damaged but different from each other. March comes with a tragic past and a mature-beyond-her-years teenage daughter Holly (the impressively self-assured Angourie Rice) who keeps her father grounded. March is a fast-talking fellow whose drunken behaviour belies his subtle sleuthing. Gosling crashes through glass, tumbles down hillsides and puts himself through all kinds of physical tests in some truly hilarious scenes.
Healey is cynical, likes order and won’t even give a $7 discount to a client. Among the glib one-liners, sample these: While speaking of his divorce, Healey says, “Marriage is buying a house for someone you hate.” Then, while investigating Amelia’s involvement and the significance of an experimental film titled How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy?, March says, “So you’re telling me you made a porno where the plot is the point?”
Gosling shows off his comic timing and Crowe gets a part that’s meaty and girth-appropriate in this fun and forgettable film propped up by the performances, humour, action, ’70s detailing, a soundtrack with retro tracks (by Kool & The Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire, among others) and a cameo by the dishy Matt Bomer who makes a late entry but leaves a lasting impression.