The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★★½

"Don't say 'n'stuff.' Just say, Dad, there are whores here." ~ Holland March

I saw the trailers for this in the cinema nearly a year ago and tucked it in the back of my mind as something to watch on DVD. Having Russell Crowe starring with Ryan Gosling in a buddy comedy is the main appeal, of course, but I was also interested to see something humorous from writer-director Shane Black, whose previous two action features had been just mediocre in my book.

The film opens in Los Angeles in 1977 with the Temptations hit "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" playing in the background. That's just the first hint of a song-driven soundtrack that draws from Kool & The Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, America, Kiss, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and other "mainstream, exuberant songs of the decade."

But this is no musical. Gosling plays "the world's worst detective," Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who has been hired by an elderly Mrs. Glenn (Lois Smith) to locate her niece, a porn star known as Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). The trouble is that Miss Mountains died in a car wreck several days earlier, but her aunt won't believe it, claiming to have seen her since the accident.

March's investigation sets him on the trail of another missing woman, wannabe actress and environmental activist Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), who might be the person Mrs. Glenn actually saw. Unfortunately for the hapless P.I., Amelia has hired a badass muscle named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to keep snoops away, and he convinces March to stop looking for her by breaking his arm.

Also looking for Amelia for very different reasons is a thug called Blueface (Beau Knapp) along with his sidekick Older Guy (Keith David). They rough Healy up pretty badly, trying to get him to reveal the treehugger's whereabouts. Only much later do we learn that the two goons were hired by USDOJ official Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), who allegedly fears her daughter Amelia has come unglued, acting delusionally paranoid.

Others in the cast include Angourie Rice as March's clever young daughter Holly, Yaya DaCosta as Kuttner's DOJ assistant Tally, Matt Bomer as Detroit-based hired killer John Boy, and Jack Kilmer as Amelia's fellow protest organizer Chet. Underlying all the running around is an attempt by Detroit automakers to discredit catalytic converter technology and avoid the need for costly exhaust emission controls. The members of the Las Vegas mob and Hollywood porn industry end up involved, leading to a string of deaths that started with Miss Mountains.

The humor is mostly visual here, like March being clumsy and thugs bumbling through their scenes. Crowe is getting a bit old for action stunts, but he pulls off a few surprising moves here and there, and Knapp plays the child "straightman" quite nicely. In fact, it's all quite nice, as the title implies, and not a bad diversion from the realpolitik of government/business collusion to deny climate reality and destroy the natural environment in the name of profits.

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