Let’s face it, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are not exactly obvious choices for a buddy-cop comedy. But they sure do appear to be having a hell of a time riffing off each other in The Nice Guys. The famously intense stars work up quite the chemistry as a pair of unlikely partners investigating the disappearance of a young woman in 1977 Los Angeles.
Gosling’s character Holland March is a clumsy, drunken private eye routinely hired by confused old ladies looking for their dead family members. Crowe plays rough-knuckled Jackson Healy, a thug-for-hire who beats up people in exchange for cash. After an awkward first meeting – during which one of them breaks the other’s arm – they team up, albeit reluctantly, to solve the case of a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who may have links to a recently killed porn star, and to a political controversy involving the Detroit auto industry.
It’s a harebrained plot that doesn’t always make sense, but even during the film’s weakest moments, it’s the back and forth between the two men that keeps you entertained. This odd couple bickers incessantly, and over practically everything. Their scenes together crackle, particularly when they’re joined by Holly (Angourie Rice), the whip-smart 13-year-old daughter of March, who proves to be a far more intrepid investigator than her old man. She practically steals scenes from right under the nose of her seasoned co-stars, emerging the moral centre of the film.
Which doesn’t mean the two leading men are spared the heavy lifting here. Although he’s playing the foil to Gosling’s buffoonish character, Crowe – grizzled, and his paunch straining the buttons on his floral shirts – is in great form, revealing an as-yet unseen gift for deadpan comedy. Gosling, meanwhile, displays a flair for slapstick, and a propensity for humiliation. He seems to be having a good ‘ol time smashing through windows and falling off balconies, but the piece de resistance is a scene in which he’s struggling to close a bathroom stall door while juggling a magazine, a gun, a cigarette, and his pants around his ankles. I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard.
Writer-director Shane Black creates a violent, sleazy, sexy world of the late 70s; a noir-ish setting in which he places this tangled web of a plot, and these relentlessly hilarious characters. Even if the story doesn’t quite add up in the end, the actors and the jokes are so sharp you’ll have little reason to complain.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Nice Guys. It’s a whole barrel of fun.