Jackson Healy & Holland March (The Nice Guys)

Created by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi

“When you talk to your doctor, tell him you have a spiral fracture.”
— Jackson, right before he breaks Holland’s arm

Writer/director and P.I. buff Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout) is pretty much the go-to guy for mismatched detective duos, and he returns to the fold (after a stint slumming, with Iron Man 3) in 2016, with The Nice Guys, a action thriller starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, set in 1970s Los Angeles.

Crowe plays the no-nonsense JACKSON HEALY, essentially a thug-for-hire, while Gosling is HOLLAND MARCH, a fidgety private investigator not exactly setting the world on fire. Even his own (obligatorily cute and precocious) daughter Holly describes him as “the world’s worst detective.” And Gosling himself describes him as a “schmuck.”

The odd couple (plus precocious daughter) reluctantly team up to find a missing girl whose disappearance may have something to do with the death of a porn star. Of course, the two stumble on to a mob-connected conspiracy that could blow the lid off the City of Angels.

I was expecting wisecracks and explosions. And I certainly got them. There are also some hilarious moments of comic ineptitude, with Gosling the prime patsy.

The scene where Crowe tells him to throw him a gun is classic. And Angourie Rice as Healy’s daughter Holly is a welcome disruption in the standard buddy fare; injecting a little down-to-earth morality and light into the cynical proceedings.

But… I was expecting a little bit more. This is a Shane Black film, after all, and he was coming off the box office success of Iron Man 3 and his last foray into the shamus game, the fan favourite Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. A lot of this tastes like reheated leftovers.

I felt let down. Gosling and Crowe weren’t so much reluctant mismatched partners as two halves of the same mildly disagreeable character, with no real personal friction or major philosophical differences between them other than a vague dislike of the other on apparently general (and plot convenient) principles. Which is puzzling. Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. snapped, crackled and popped all the way through Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; here Gosling and Crowe, who certainly have the chops to pull it off, barely display any electricity at all. And the convoluted but thin plot seemed like more of an excuse to tie together various set pieces than any genuine attempt to tell a story.

Perhaps the project’s roots as a (failed) television pilot had something to do with it. Certainly the final scene almost begs for a teaser for “next week’s episode.”

Or maybe that was the point, and I missed it completely. A lot of people LOVED this film.

UNDER OATH

  • “The Southern California setting and the shaggy-dog private-eye plot may remind you of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, though The Nice Guys lacks that movie’s wistful, slyly political sense of history. Its combination of knowingness and comic violence suggests a Coen brothers movie shorn of philosophical and formal rigor. The gamy, wised-up wit of its dialogue pays homage to Elmore Leonard, but the plotting is much too sloppy to sustain the comparison. You will no doubt find other things to be reminded of, which is a testament to Mr. Black’s cleverness and also a recognition of its limits. This is a dumb movie pretending to be smart, even as it wants you to believe the opposite.”
    — A.O. Scott, The New York Times
  • “Basically, it’s Inherent Vice without the highbrow aspirations, or The Big Lebowski with two Dudes.”
    –Chris Nashawaty (May 2016, Entertainment Weekly)

FILMS

  • THE NICE GUYS | Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2016, Silver Pictures)
    116 minutes
    Based (loosely) on Blue Murder by Brett Halliday (Robert Terrall)
    Screenplay by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi
    Directed by Shane Black
    Starring Ryan Gosling as HOLLAND MARCH
    and Russell Crowe as JACKSON HEALY
    Also starring Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Rachele Brooke Smith, Yaya DaCosta, Ty Simpkins, Keith David, Carson Meyer, Yvonne Zima, Jack Kilmer, Rachel Faulkner, Lexi Johnson

NOVELIZATIONS

  • The Nice Guys (2016; by Charles Ardai) Buy this book Kindle it!
    At least they did the novelization right. It was written by Hard Case Crime’s head honcho.

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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