I’m a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black’s scrappy, funny 2005 directorial debut. Black hasn’t done a lot of directing in its aftermath, with his lone theatrical credit since then being Iron Man 3, the second-strongest Iron Man in the franchise.
He’s returned to grittier, film-noir mode with The Nice Guys, a grimy detective story starring a game Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. The movie is good—not great, just good—and it’s painful to witness the moments that don’t work.
Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a Los Angeles loser who gets paid by people to rough up child molesters, for the most part. He gets an assignment from Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who wants him to pay a visit to private-detective Holland March (Gosling)—and that visit turns out to be hilariously infused with comic violence.
Holland and Jackson wind up working on a case together, one that involves Amelia, a dead porn star, and a gun for hire named John Boy (Matt Bomer, relishing the chance to be super nasty) because he has a mole on his face.
When Gosling and Crowe are allowed to go crazy, the movie purrs on all cylinders. It’s when Black’s script (co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi) leads to a conspiracy involving Amelia’s mother, played by Kim Basinger, that it stalls out. Basinger is tone-deaf in this film; she doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie she is in, and her line delivery is woefully over-the-top. She’s terrible.
I don’t blame Black for casting Basinger in an L.A. movie with Crowe. The two, of course, shared the screen in L.A. Confidential, and the idea of them working together again is enticing. Basinger won an Oscar (undeserved) for that movie, but she won’t be getting any awards for this one.
Thankfully, the movie is more than saved by the Gosling/Crowe pairing. There’s a wonderful goofiness to many of their scenes. Crowe has a spit-take that just might be his greatest onscreen moment ever, and Gosling has a Lou Costello stammering moment over a dead body that is hysterical. Actually, this movie could almost count as some sort of 1970s-era Abbott and Costello remake, with Crowe as a twisted Abbott, and Gosling the bumbling, drunken Costello.
Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling’s whip-smart daughter, Holly, is a true scene-stealer; this will count as her breakthrough role. She more than holds her own against Gosling and Crowe, and is often the most-adult character in the movie. The young Aussie actress gets extra points for her spot-on American accent.
The visual palette is impeccable ’70s. The film captures the rundown look of L.A. with nice touches, including a beat-up Hollywood sign, and billboards for Tower Records and Jaws 2. There are lots of grays and browns in this film, with the occasional spark of hot pink and disco lights. As somebody who was a young dumbass in that decade, I felt transported watching the film.
Gosling and Crowe are great together, and they should consider pairing up again for future films. They are so good that you will forgive the film’s inconsistencies and convoluted plot. You won’t forgive Basinger, though. These cinematic crimes are unforgivable.
I would love to see Crowe and Gosling in a monster movie. Universal Studios should abandon all of those modern spins on Frankenstein and instead put these two in a period piece as a couple of bungling idiots trying to defeat the lurching beast. A great comic duo has been born!
Actually, Shane Black’s next announced movie is The Predator, a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger monster movie. Nobody has been officially cast yet. Get offers out to Crowe and Gosling … stat!
The Nice Guys is playing at theaters across the valley.