I love the buddy cop genre. Action with comedy and the occasional thrill makes for great entertainment. I remember the Lethal Weapon series being the only R-rated movies that my mother would let me watch as a child and I cherished those moments of Mel Gibson’s lovable psychosis and Danny Glover’s “I’m too old for this shit,” one step behind, paternalistic behavior. Since then, the genre has been in decline and formulaic. Occasionally there will be a sleeper hit a la Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and then most recently, The Nice Guys. Is there a pattern here? Of course there is. Shane Black comes back to the genre that he created and shakes it up a little bit and with the The Nice Guys, he reminds us that buddy cops are here to stay.
Nice Guys takes place in the 70s at the peak of Los Angeles’s sleaze. Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a down on his luck Private Investigator takes up a job offer to find a porn star that has already died. March gets paid a large sum for the investigation and although it does not make sense to him, he realizes that a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) is tied to the death of the actress and accepts the job. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is hired by Amelia to keep anyone away who is looking for her. Healy and March cross paths and their first interaction does not end well for March, but as they go deeper into their investigations, they realize that they are tied in a web and they are the only ones that they can trust.
Shane Black is the master of this genre because he always finds ways to create brilliant chemistry between his two leads. No matter how different the two are from each other, Black finds a way to create a marriage. As odd of a couple that they are, he’s able create pure excessive entertainment with the team of Gosling and Crowe. Gosling has showed us his versatility in comedy with Crazy Stupid Love, but he completely hams it up in this role as March, the boozy, chain smoking, and lovable loser. Gosling chews up every scene of the movie while Crowe acts as the foil that allows it to work. Crowe’s presence is steel, hidden in a layer of fat and a scruffy beard. He completely lets loose, abandoning his own physicality but the intimidating presence is still there. His gaze on the camera is completely natural and the two are in their element during the whole movie.
Like most noir films, it gets convoluted. The story always gets fleshed out too much but it wouldn’t be “noir” without the constant twists and turns of the plot. Black goes hyper noir with his plot and the movie suffers a bit towards the end for it. But the films minor faults can be ignored because of the quality of the acting. Holly (Angourie Rice), March’s daughter, works her way into the middle and end of the film, and by the films conclusion, she becomes the heart of the story. Holly gives her father the strength to keep digging and gives Healy the morality that has been missing most of his life. Angourie Rice’s on screen presence was more magnetic than Crowe’s and Gosling’s, mixing it up with adolescent curiosity and maturity. I expect to see her enchant us more in the future.
After Iron Man 3, I’m glad Black went back to his roots. It’s second nature to him and nobody in Hollywood can match him in this realm. The Nice Guys was well acted and refreshing in a genre that needed revitalization. Lets hope for once Hollywood gives a sequel to a rare film that earns and deserves it.