Film Review: The Nice Guys

Nice Guys poster

The Nice Guys Plot Summary:

A down on his luck private investigator (Ryan Gosling) gets in the cross hairs of a tough guy snoop (Russell Crowe) after tracking a young woman (Margaret Qualley) of interest.  When she becomes the target of a greater threat, the two work together to uncover a larger plot centering around the adult film business in this gritty, madcap 1970’s action comedy.

When watching the first half of this whacky buddy cop mystery, I can absolutely see why people are losing their minds for this movie. While not blown away, I was no doubt enamored and entertained by the chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Not only that, it was a damn good mystery. This is what I imagine people crave to see Batman do as a detective, but that’s a rant for another day. The first half was flawed, but engaging as hell. Then we get to the second half. Yeah, not so much. This is the part of the review where I tell you that Shane Black co-wrote and directed this film. Shane Black has many good qualities, but much like Edgar Wright, he gets too involved in his own little world. The movie gets too Shane Black. We’ll have plenty of time to dwell on that statement, but let’s start with the positives.

Crowe poster

We’ve seen a lot of movies the last few years embrace the 1970’s. This film joins the ranks of American Hustle and X-Men: Days of Future Past of making you feel like you are in that time period. While not as good as those films, The Nice Guys may have embraced their time period best of all. I love the look and feel of this movie. The buildings. The music. The style. The grimy look of Los Angeles. I ate it up. I just wish their was a better film to accompany it.

Shane Black is constantly praised for his screenwriting abilities, and we saw the best and worst of him right here. The actual story and mystery is spot on. I was fully invested in wanting to know where this was going, and I love that it heavily involved the pornography industry, making the movie feel more 1970’s. While the plot is a damn good one, Black fails in writing two strong leads. Having said that, he is saved by two extraordinary actors.

I shutter to think where this movie would be without Russell Crowe. Crowe plays Jackson Healy, an all business tough guy who tracks down thugs and low-lifes for money. He goes in, punches them really hard, and that’s about it. There’s definitely meat to his back story, showing the audience he wants more out of life, but there’s not much else to this character. Aside from his narrations, the dialogue is bland. Russell Crowe no doubt elevates this material. His simple ticks and mannerisms brought out more than what was on the page. If Johnny Depp played this guy, the movie would have blown bags.

While Ryan Gosling’s character was given more personality, he had to over compensate as well. There’s no doubt Ryan Gosling is one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. The guy is uber talented, and can play any role in any genre. No question. Gosling plays Holland March, who’s a real schmuck, but a schmuck with a heart of gold. The character is written poorly. He’s a decent guy, but then all of a sudden has a drinking problem, he’s kind of an asshole, then he’s sympathetic. At times he’s a brilliant detective, but then screws up, but ten seconds later he’s smart again. Some would say this is good, complex writing, but I say it’s sloppy. Many actors would have royally screwed this up. Not only does Gosling find a nice balance, but he makes this guy his own, despite the frantic writing. While I don’t love this film, the chemistry between Crowe and Gosling make it worth your while.

Gosling poster

The supporting cast was hit or miss. While I enjoyed Angourie Rice’s performance as March’s daughter, she’s used way too much and distracts from the plot. The main villain (Matt Bomer) is a total dud, which is frustrating, because the two henchmen, played by Keith David and Beau Knapp, are actually really awesome, and total seventies thugs. They were way underutilized. Kim Basinger was whatever, and Yaya DaCosta plays a pivotal role, but was completely forgettable. The actress who nearly derailed the entire movie though was Margaret Qualley, who plays the crucial role of Amelia.

While I enjoyed the mystery early on, the second half totally lost me, and part of it was because of Qualley’s acting. When she lays everything out, the delivery is so convoluted and badly acted, I completely lost interest. This is where the movie gets too Shane Black. He did such a good job staying on point, but it’s almost like he has a short attention span. The comedy is forced, and very reminiscent of his last film, Iron Man 3. Jokes for the sake of jokes. They don’t come from the characters or plot, they are just there. The film devolves into random conversations just for laughs. There’s also a long running gag where March compares everything to Hitler, and let’s face it, those are desperation jokes.

There’s a lot of entertainment to be had here, but the film is all over the place. By the time we get to the third act, I just wanted to go home. It’s saved by the two leads, but there was a foundation for something far greater. The trailer also ruined two great surprises. I really hate movie trailers. I’m sure Shane Black was thrilled to be out of the Marvel umbrella, as there’s no doubt he had total control over this project.  I’d see another film with these guys, but someone better filter Shane Black next time around.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better Than “Meh”)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.