The Nice Guys is directed and co-written by our lord and savior Shane Black, whom I love. I was raised on Lethal Weapon and later, found God when I saw the comedy detective film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So when I heard that Shane motherfucking Black was doing another farcical, wise cracking detective story I was pumped to say the least. And having now seen the film I can say with complete confidence that The Nice Guys is a good film. That’s all. Kind of a let down really.
I’ll throw my hands up on this one. I went in expecting to see a masterpiece so when The Nice Guys turned out to be only a good film, I left the cinema disappointed. I know for a fact that if I wasn’t hyped for this movie I would’ve been satisfied. The direction is good and the plot is clever, both doing a great job of mixing the classic buddy cop formula with noir elements. The dialogue is sharp and well delivered by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe who are absolutely committed to their roles. The movie’s climax feels reminiscent of the Rush Hour films but without the crushing burden of Chris Tucker’s ghetto dog whistle voice. This all sounds like the formula for a great movie so you have to ask yourself one question. What’s missing? For me, the weak point of the film is the comedy. There are a few hilarious moments but the jokes and the witty banter often failed to get a reaction out of me. The Nice Guys is getting a recommendation from me but for the rest of this review, we’ll be talking about why it’s only a good movie and not a great one.
First off, the performances. Yes I did say Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling were 100% committed to their roles, and absolutely nailed the dramatic elements of the film. However, there are lots of occasions where their lack of comedic expertise is felt. Ryan Gosling over uses his high-pitched scream. The first time it was okay but after that I felt that it weakened the punchline because he, as an actor, did not explore the other options. Russell Crowe was excellent as the tough guy problem solver but in the comedic aspects of his character I felt he was bland. Another issue that pops up every now and again is that the physical comedy feels like a well executed routine rather than natural awkwardness and I chalk this up again to the lack of comedic experience.
The next issue is the way the characters were written. As stated in the beginning of this review Shane Black wrote both Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang so we know that he can write a good duo, both dramatically and comedically. The trick is for them to be polar opposites and admittedly, Gosling’s Holland March and Crowe’s Jackson Healy aren’t exactly twins. Holland is an alcoholic P.I. with a cynical world view, who scams his employers out of their money. Jackson is a problem solver who gets paid to beat people up. He runs his business very honestly but dreams of being a P.I. so he can do some good. Again I find myself asking “what’s missing?”. The answer is situational conflict.
What I mean is that their methods of approach to situations are never in conflict with each other in a comedic way. The closest we get is Jackson berating March for his scamming ways. This isn’t enough. We need them to act differently in the field. An example of this from Lethal Weapon is when Mel Gibson’s Riggs and Danny Glover’s Murtaugh are trying to get a jumper down from a ledge safely. Danny Glover is more in favour of talking him down but Mel Gibson does what I think Mel Gibson would do in real life and challenges the jumper to a game of Crazy Chicken. Mel Gibson is undefeated in Crazy Chicken. Gibson leaps off the ledge with the jumper and both land safely on a crash mat. This is a great scene because of how clear-cut the differences are and unfortunately for The Nice Guys while the characters think different, when they are together they don’t act differently enough.
While the issues with performance and character are substantial, the biggest problems are the jokes themselves. The biggest laughs come from the situational comedy but its sparse on the ground. Mostly the humour consists of witty banter but the lead actors aren’t able to get the most out of it because of the afore-mentioned lack of comedic experience. A couple of lines get me but they are the exception not the rule. There are also some jokes that fall on the wrong side of random or are dirty but without the wit to elevate them. The worst thing however is when the comedic premise of a scene falls completely flat. This only happened once in the film but it was a long scene and it killed the momentum.
Like I said, The Nice Guys is a good movie but it is either missing or falls short in crucial aspects of its genre that stop it from being great.