Just to be clear, the leading characters in this violent action-comedy are anything but nice. That’s the level of humor in The Nice Guys, the latest endeavor from Shane Black, whose Lethal Weapon helped make him the hottest screenwriter in Hollywood thirty years ago. This movie is more on the level of Black’s directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an overblown L.A. action yarn with a smartass sense of humor.
What makes this movie tolerable and even enjoyable at times is the rapport between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, as a pair of low-rent private detectives who get more than they bargained for while tracing the murder of a porn actress named Misty Mountains. It seems that Misty’s personal and professional ties involve powerful people who don’t want anyone examining their very dirty laundry.
Frankly, neither do I. The Nice Guys is watchable enough, with a nonstop flow of wisecracks and a reasonable evocation of Los Angeles in 1977. (The period setting also relieves Black of having to deal with such modern-day distractions as cell phones and texting.) But it goes on too long for such a trivial story and doesn’t add up to much. It’s hard to care about the mystery angle at all, let alone its resolution.
Still, it’s fun to watch Crowe and Gosling, who seem cheerfully relaxed in their roles, and newcomer Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling’s precocious 13-year-old daughter. And I can’t completely dismiss a movie that evokes the memory of Lou Costello. But these fleeting pleasures don’t constitute a satisfying experience. Moviegoers who are desperate for escapism may find it good enough. I didn’t.