Welcome to Ben Burton Park!
Superstar screenwriter Shane Black followed Lethal Weapon with a string of multimillion-dollar scripts like The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight (and most importantly, he co-wrote my childhood favorite, The Monster Squad), but did not get a chance to direct until the 2005 standout Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black has followed up his breakthrough flick, Marvel Phase Two opener Iron Man 3, with The Nice Guys, a ’70s throwback with the ’80s buddy-cop comedy vibe epitomized by Lethal Weapon. Think if Riggs and Murtaugh investigated crimes in an L.A. where they could run into Inherent Vice’s Doc. That pretty well sums up these entertaining Nice Guys.
Russell Crowe stars as Jackson Healy, a tough guy who professionally beats up bad guys. When Healy’s latest client, Amelia (Andie MacDowell’s daughter, Margaret Qualley), sends him after morally ambiguous P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling), the two end up working together to find Amelia, who happens to be the daughter of a Justice Department bigwig played by Kim Basinger, and crack a case that involves a missing pornographic movie, the auto industry (represented by Buck Rogers himself, Gil Gerard) and a dead porn star named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Fortunately, Healy and March have a His Girl Nancy Drew in Holland’s level-headed, resourceful tweenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice).
Crowe and Gosling have a distinct, friendly chemistry—much like that of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover—but Black plays this action comedy more like a live-action cartoon with Gosling tripping, flipping and falling like Wile E. Coyote, much to the bemused chagrin of his more serious pseudo-partner. The mystery may last a red herring too long, as its false ending clocks in at about 90 minutes, presaging the movie’s major action set piece, a climactic shoot-’em-up at 1978’s big auto show.
Still, Black reinvigorates the rather staid, formulaic action comedy by inserting period flair that matches his charismatic lead duo. Crowe always works best in a time period other than the present, and Gosling nails the rakish, Elliot Gould-ish ’70s gumshoe. Visions of Fletch mingle with the macho musk of Lethal Weapon, and despite some genre-induced narrative and character limitations, The Nice Guys is a blast to watch, like a supersized pilot episode for a never-picked-up ’70s buddy detective series.