Almost thirty years ago, Shane Black wrote the screenplay for Lethal Weapon, one of the greatest buddy cop movies ever made. The Nice Guys, which Black directed and co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi, is quite possibly the best buddy cop movie since the original Lethal Weapon. The main characters here technically aren’t cops, however. One is an enforcer who punches first and asks questions never. The other is a private eye who means well, but is about as competent as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. As individuals, neither man is especially qualified to serve or protect. Together, though, they make for a winning onscreen duo in a hugely entertaining film.
Set in 1977 LA, the film revolves around a missing young woman named Amelia and the death of a porn star named Misty Mountains. Ryan Gosling stars as Holland March, a bubbling P.I. following the case. Holland crosses paths with a brute named Jackson Healy, played by Russell Crowe, who uses his fist to tell him to back off. Despite getting off to a rocky start, Holland and Jackson eventually find themselves investigating side by side. As the two dig deeper and deeper, they start to uncover a conspiracy that just might go to the very top.
The most important element of any buddy cop movie is the chemistry between our heroes. In The Nice Guys, Crowe and Gosling work off each other to near perfection. We’ve seen Crowe play numerous tough guys over the years, but many of them have lacked any charisma or depth. Jackson on the other hand, is a surprisingly likable straight man who manages to charm even as he’s breaking bones. Meanwhile, Gosling has never been funnier. Holland appears dazed and confused in every scene, but the screenplay never turns him into a flat-out idiot either. Both men ultimately even each other out, although they’ll always essentially be a couple of bad boys.
Ironically, the most competent crime fighter in the movie is Holland’s 13-year-old daughter, Holly. Reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster, Angourie Rice delivers a breakout performance as the little gumshoe who insists on accompanying her dad. Holly is constantly cleaning up after her father’s messes and landing herself in big trouble too. Thanks to her quick wits, though, she’s always able to get out of a sticky situation unscathed. In a way, she’s kind of like Penny from Inspector Gadget: bright, kind, and wanting nothing more than to see justice served. The rest of the cast is also terrific, featuring Kim Basinger as a chief justice, Matt Bomer as a mysterious criminal, and the always great Keith David as an aging hitman.
Shane Black’s previous directorial outings include the cult classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the box office behemoth Iron Man 3. In The Nice Guys, Black fires on all cylinders with stimulating action, an inventive mystery, consistently hilarious comedy, and unforgettable characters. Above all else, Black injects the film with kinetic energy and a lively atmosphere. Much like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, this film does a wonderful job at capturing 70s culture through costumes, hair, and music. Where Inherent Vice could feel drawn-out and tedious at times, however, The Nice Guys doesn’t have a single dull moment and will leave you wanting more. With that said, I’m officially keeping my fingers crossed for The Nice Guys 2.