“I had to question the mermaids. What were you doing while I was working?” – A review of The Nice Guys by Josh Hains

Are you experiencing blockbuster fatigue? Are you tired by the onslaught of adaptations, sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots this movie season? Do you need something original, refreshing, and different for a change? Then call The Nice Guys detective agency headed by Holland March and Jackson Healy and prepare to be blown by a porn star…I mean blown away by gust busting hilarity and propulsive action sequences and stuff!

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You won’t find a nicer pair…of detectives in the Los Angeles area, ready to break your arm or push you off the roof of a hotel if you mess with them. Don’t worry about professionalism, they don’t drink on the job, chase topless mermaids in the pools of lavish parties, crash luxury vehicles, or cause extensive property damage during shootouts. They’re great with kids too, even being so generous as to let Holland’s 12 year old daughter tag along during all the violent and pornographic parts of their investigation. Who am I kidding, they’re the world’s worst detectives!

The Nice Guys has the great misfortune of containing all the right ingredients for a knock out classic, but just so happened to be released in the wrong month: May. Following on the heels of the grand slam Captain America: Civil War, and competing directly with Angry Birds and Neighbours 2, with X-Men: Apocalypse due out the following week, The Nice Guys didn’t stand much of a chance at making a prosperous box office return. Despite overwhelmingly positive critic and audience reception toward the movie, it sadly became a box office flop, earning just 57 million dollars on a budget of 50 million. I don’t know whose decision it was to open The Nice Guys in May with such heavy competition against it, but they ought to be fired. Or thrown off a building. Mid to late September would have been the most opportune time for The Nice Guys to be released, given that only a couple movies released that month had any amount of of hype behind them. The Nice Guys could have easily been a refreshing escape from the drivel trickling out in the weeks prior, save for a couple genuine hits. That The Nice Guys wasn’t a hit is criminal and stuff.

Unlike most similarly themed private detective movies, The Nice Guys isn’t laid back, contemplative, overly cynical, and slowly paced. In fact, quite the opposite, a light on its feet, lightning-fast paced, joke a minute funny, maturely crude, and considerably violent joy. The majority of the plot has the bumbling private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and the tough yet tender hearted enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) trying to find Amelia (Margaret Qualley), the missing daughter of a high ranking official in the Department Of Justice (Kim Basinger), all the while evading inept hitmen left and right with March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) accompanying them seemingly everywhere despite the overwhelming risks. While the plot certainly is an important aspect of any movie, as is standard with private detective movies, the plot takes a back-seat to the relationships at the heart of the movie, surrounded by edgy humour and shocking but not gratuitous violence.

The heart comes from aspects of the relationship between March and daughter Holly that I won’t delve into, as well as the eventual care that Healy comes to feel in his heart for March and Holly, and vice versa. It works wonderfully and feels organic to the nature of the characters, and not simply shoehorned in for lazy dramatic effect. The chemistry between the trio only strengthens the heart of the movie, and also helps the comedy work its magic without feeling forced. It also helps that everyone is at the top of their game here, and the chemistry between Gosling and Crowe is so infectious it reminds you of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover bouncing off each other in the Lethal Weapon movie series. Angourie Rice is a young talent to keep an eye on, only upping the ante in terms of chemistry and charm when Holly tags along with March and Healy.

In The Nice Guys, the humour isn’t used to cut dramatic tension, or forced into any given scene for the sake of trying to be funny like most comedies released these days. Rather, the jokes come about because what is said or done is actually funny, whether it be a witty or sarcastic line like the one used in the title of this review, March dropping a lit cigarette in his pants while seated on a toilet talking to Healy, or March’s high pitched scream as Healy breaks his arm early in the film. The jokes are funny, and they seem to only get funnier the more times you watch movie, which is how a good joke ought to work in a movie.

As for the violence, while it’s bloody and sure to satisfy the thirstiest of gore lovers, it’s not usually about how much blood is flying from bullet wounds. In The Nice Guys, some sequences that involve violence have a propulsive quality about them. A shootout that turns into an epic chase near the end of the movie perfectly demonstrates propulsive action, when March is chased by assassin John Boy (Matt Bomer) through an expansive auto show, down an escalator, through a window and into the parking lanes below. Many action movies prefer to have the heroes and villains trade gunfire in a given space, so it’s nice to see a movie that doesn’t mind having the heroes do some exercise in favour of excessive shooting…they do get to shoot, but it’s not a constant thing. Other sequences of violence, like a fist fight at an expensive party packed with drug taking, scantily clad and topless or nude models and porn stars, ample drinking, and Earth Wind & Fire, manages to be very well choreographed while also looking and feeling exactly like a random fight. The fight in question occurs between Healy and the hitman Old Man (Keith David), and bears all the desperation of two nearly equally matched men tying to overcome one a other, but looks as slick, polished, and cool as anything in a Marvel Cinematic Universe fight.

Shane Black is an old action comedy pro, a veteran actor of the classic action thriller Predator, and a writer on other classic action titles such as Lethal Weapon & Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, as well as writing and directing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3. The Nice Guys has him deep in his element, serving up the same kind of pull -the-rug-out-from-underneath-you storytelling, witty and sarcastic profanity induced crude humour yet mature humour, and a big mushy heart, all wrapped up in a consistently hilarious, fun, energetic, charming, action packed throwback to an era of movies nearly lost, but kept alive by gems such as this one. This is my favourite movie of the year so far, do not miss this awesome movie!

8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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