I can’t say I know too much about living in the 70s, having not been born and all, but thanks to films and television I know it primarily consisted of cars, corruption and pornography. And giving me further reason to believe that’s an accurate representation, The Nice Guys uses all three as its main themes in recreating the era. In fact, it’s all established in a rather succinct opening sequence in which a young boy lovingly gawps at a porno mag, only to be interrupted by a fashionable sports car that comes crashing through his house. Rushing to the driver’s aid, the kid discovers a naked and bloody porn star lying provocatively on the bonnet. I appreciate that doesn’t cover corruption, but come on, it’s called exposition. Anyway, the boy covers the woman’s body because he’s a nice guy. Get it? He’s a nice guy.
Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) are also meant to be nice guys, even though the former is a pathetic private eye who takes money from senile clients and the latter punches people with a knuckle-duster for a living. They’re the latest action comedy duo to come from director Shane Black, the guy who brought us Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He’s all recovered from that temporary brain fart that led to Iron Man 3 and back to doing what he does best: forming highly unlikely partnerships. And I’m not talking Kevin Hart and Ice Cube on one of their arse-clenchingly awful adventures. No, Black’s latest film is genuinely hilarious and, unlike Ride Along, doesn’t make me want to pour battery acid in my ears.
Both down on their luck, March and Healy are brought together when a girl named Amelia mysteriously disappears. It’s only when everyone around them starts getting murdered that they realise something fishier is going on. Their investigation intertwines with the death of the naked car lady and takes them to a porn star party, where there’s a fairly impressive bunch of Earth, Wind and Fire lookalikes. At this point I noticed everyone in the cinema was jiving in their seats, one man making colourful wavy patterns with his hands and another snorting crack off his wife’s tits.
But I digress. It’s during this scene that March drunkenly tumbles down a hill and lands beside Bruce Forsythe. I mean a rotting corpse. Instead of hamming his reaction like Chris Tucker when he does absolutely anything, Gosling pulls off a brilliant silent scream, a bit like Shaggy when he sees a ghost but with the sense that he’s genuinely shat himself. It’s one of many hilarious physical comedy moments in The Nice Guys that again, makes the likes of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg look like farm animals, incessantly mooing until a child points and giggles. And with Crowe effortlessly conquering the straight man role, there’s every reason to consider him and Gosling the best action comedy duo around.
But it’s not all slapstick and silky dialogue perfection. The Nice Guys, while priding itself on being moderately ridiculous, occasionally comes close to being pathetic. One particularly clumsy set piece involving coffee resulted in a fairly awkward silence in the cinema. I had to ask the person beside me if I’d trumped. The film also comes to a cluttered conclusion, which was always going to be the case when tying together elements of corruption and blood-bespattered boobs. But none of this can damage the overall success of Black’s romp. It’s satisfyingly old school yet still comically original. It’s also quite pleasing to see Ryan Gosling in pain.