It seems to be a long time ago since we had a solid buddy cop film. They used to be all the rage, mainly thanks to the brilliance that was Lethal Weapon and the craze got so mad that we had buddy cop films where the partner was a dog. Looking at you Turner and Hooch and K-9. Yet as soon as the Rush Hour trilogy ended, they all seemed to disappear. I know Rush Hour wasn’t the greatest series of films, but they were definitely not genre killing. So we need to make the most of what we’ve got, and that is to enjoy The Nice Guys.
In 1977 Los Angeles, PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive) is hired to investigate the disappearance of Amelia (Margaret Qualley, The Leftovers). On the path to finding her, he ends up being forced to team up with Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, Gladiator) as all the clues point to this being more than just a disappearance of a girl.
So the thing that’ll make you fall in love with The Nice Guys is that it decides to drench itself in the time period. I’ve always been a sucker for a film that makes the past feel real again and The Nice Guys does that brilliantly with the choice of music, the fashion and the way that the characters talk to each other. I do realize there are some anachronisms in the music choices with some 1980s music appearing in some scenes, but because the mis-en-scene is so spot on, you forget about that little annoyance and just get swept away in the era where Hollywood sleaze was king.
But as this is essentially a buddy cop film between Holland and Jackson, these two have to work together well or the entire thing falls on its arse. Luckily it is, and actually feels novel in this rather old genre. Most buddy cop films similar shove two opposites in a car together and tell them to solve a crime together. The Odd Couple meets CSI really. This is perfectly fine, creating conflict within the protagonists before coming together to beat the real villain, it’s a plot that works. But I love the way this film doesn’t make this plot obvious. Holland and Jackson don’t seem like opposites, in fact they are very similar in that they both do want to do the right thing, they just have the wrong way of doing it. And it’s because of that they butt heads, not that they are complete opposites. It means we get a different sort of conflict which is just as enjoyable.
However while the chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling is great, as well as one of the oddest screen pairings I’ve seen in a while, they are not the stars here. No, that’s Holland’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, Walking with Dinosaurs), who is my favourite part of the film. When I first saw that Holland had a daughter, I thought we’d get a clichéd ‘I need to be there for my family’ sort of sub-plot which we’ve seen in a million films. Yet instead, she’s the one driving the plot forward by butting in on this case and actually doing their job while they bicker and get involved in lewd parties. She’s basically Penny to Holland and Jackon’s Inspector Gadget in that she’s the smart one that does the actual work while they just have fun and make us laugh.
And that really is The Nice Guys‘s strength, it makes you laugh. The director Shane Black (Iron Man 3) is decent at crafting action scenes and making his actors charismatic, but the thing he is best at is what got him in the director’s chair, his ability to craft a script full of one-liners and good humour. Every other line is something that’ll make you laugh, whether it was from Holland, Jackson, Holly or even one of the other characters. Heck, Black manages to make a scene which should be dark and depressing one of the biggest laughs in the film without feeling cheap and sick, which is stunning.
However maybe Black takes this too far as the biggest flaw of the film is that it barely focuses on its plot. There is one, and it’s pretty decent with our pair slowly uncovering a conspiracy involving main characters, the government and possibly even Detroit, which makes sense as that place is a black hole. But the film becomes so interested in the distractions such as the parties going on, the bickering between Holland and March and just spouting off pithy lines off each other that the plot gets forgotten at times, and so when it tries to get back on track you’ve forgotten how far they’ve got in the case. They catch you up, but that’s time lost simply to gawk and the 1970ness of it all.
With the lack of buddy films being released right now, The Nice Guys is a breath of fresh air because they take that genre and do it so well without ever feeling like they are paying a debt to the great ones which have come before them. It’s very funny, perhaps even distractingly so, and for two hours if your life you can afford to dive into sleazy 1970’s Hollywood. You might understand why the plot got so distracted then.