There may not be a more fun time in the movies to revisit than the 1970s. The clothes, the hair, and just the general vibe of that decade, when done right, help filmmakers create a fun atmosphere even before their characters say a single word.
That’s certainly the case for The Nice Guys, in which writer/director Shane Black uses the ’70s to underscore a highly entertaining private-eye story. Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a legitimate if slightly amoral private investigator, teams up with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) after the two of them become involved with two aspects of the same case. When they discover that a missing girl Jackson was hired to find may be the key to a much larger corruption case, they pull out all the stops to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Gosling and Crowe wouldn’t normally be anybody’s idea of a killer comedy duo, but their chemistry under the unique circumstances of this film leads to some huge laughs. March is bumbling and possibly alcoholic, two traits that Gosling plays for all they’re worth. He melds perfectly with Crowe’s deadpan Healy, who merely has to react to March’s antics to be funny.
The two of them being good together makes up for the fact that the story is not on par with their acting. It’s overly complicated and becomes plainly ridiculous the more you think about it. Aside from the main duo, the only thing that saves the movie from going off the rails is the presence of March’s precocious daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), one of those wise-beyond-her-years characters whose knowledge and naiveté serve her well.
A throwback in many ways, the film also serves up its fair share of violence and nudity, two elements it uses effectively without ever going overboard with either. There are no standout action scenes, mostly because the film is designed more for circumstantial action than set pieces.
A film that’s neither all that memorable nor instantly forgettable, The Nice Guys is a fun lark that shows off both Gosling and Crowe in a different light. You could do much worse.