Opening with Papa Was A Rolling Stone and a teenaged boy’s midnight wank disturbed by a naked, drug-addled porn star fatally crashing her car through his house before introducing us to it’s two scuzzy heroes; bottom-feeding, alcoholic private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and sentimental thug-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), The Nice Guys may just be writer/director Shane Black’s Shane Blackest film.

Having made his name in the ‘80s and ‘90s as the screenwriter of violent, funny, high-octane buddy movies like Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight, retro neo-noir comedy thriller The Nice Guys sees Black treading the mean streets of the ultra-smoggy, uber-sleazy Hell-A of the ‘70s with two errant knights in decidedly tarnished armour after pleasing crowds and selling popcorn by the bucket with the comic book Iron Man 3.

First meeting in a very professional capacity when Healy breaks March’s arm on behalf of the mysterious Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who’s tangentially involved in March’s latest case involving the afore-mentioned dead porn star, Healy’s soon forced to team up with March after a run-in with a couple of hitmen convinces him the girl is in some very bad trouble. As the bodies stack up, Healy and March, with the aid of March’s sassy 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), will uncover a deadly conspiracy that includes corrupt city officials, the Mob, pornographers, the Detroit automobile industry and an unstoppable assassin, as all concerned hunt the elusive Amelia and a very incriminating porn film trough a lurid, drug-addled world of drugs, violence, disco, debauchery and pool parties.

With it’s splashy, almost cartoonish violence and constant, snappy, rat-a-tat dialogue The Nice Guys feels almost like a foul-mouthed ‘30s screwball comedy, It Happened One Night by way of Dashiell Hammett, Gosling and Crowe trading punches and one-liners as they get to the bottom of some very dirty business, the plot of less importance than their burgeoning bromance as they make the most satisfying buddy movie pairing since Lethal Weapon’s Riggs and Murtaugh, Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi’s razor-sharp script a vulgar, profane delight, while Black and cinematographer Phillippe Rousselot’s sweaty vision of Los Angeles is reminiscent of classic ‘70s thrillers like The Long Goodbye, Charley Varrick, The Drowning Pool and Night Moves, the handling just more laidback, less paranoid, more in tune with it’s dim, douchebag protagonists.

Paunchy and looking a lot like those beardy, boozy, bender photos he used to post on Twitter, Crowe is wonderful as the reluctant thug-turned-private dick, his Healy a grizzled, laconic, wounded bear of a man, going through the tough guy motions while desperately searching for a purpose in life, a chance to do the right thing, to be useful, a cynical, world-weary loser who still has enough pride to lecture his would-be assassin on the proper etiquette of interrogation, a thug with just enough humanity to offer medical advice to his victims as he breaks their bones. Gosling meanwhile is simply hilarious, the most beautiful man in the world as a live action Looney Tunes figure, giving a shameless, dignity-free performance as the drunken, cowardly March and proving a gifted physical comedian as he stumbles over corpses, pratfalls or tries to control a loaded gun, a toilet cubicle door, a lit cigarette and a magazine while getting the drop on Crowe’s bathroom intruder.

These men aren’t heroes and despite the film’s title, they aren’t even particularly nice. They’re not just has-beens, they’re never-wases. They’re not the best men for the job, but they are the only men for the job. Together, they’re almost perfect, the chemistry between Crowe and Gosling crackling with electricity and they’re obviously having a ball while ably supported by the likes of Kim Basinger’s compromised politician, Keith David and Beau Knapp’s mismatched heavies and an absolutely terrifying turn by a dramatically cast-against-type Matt Bomer as the icy, almost Terminator-like assassin John Boy (so named because of his resemblance to The Waltons favourite son). It’s Australian actress Angourie Rice however who almost steals the film out from under the Nice Guys, a revelation in a star-making turn as Gosling’s teenage daughter Holly, who’s both the brains and the conscience of the team, a smart, sassy, sullen wise-ass reminiscent of the young Jodie Foster.

Slick, funny, foul-mouthed and violent, if the Odd Couple’s Victor and Oscar were rolled down a hill into oncoming traffic in Jim Rockford’s caravan, the result would be a lot like The Nice Guys. Just go see it, it’s the most entertaining film of the year, so enjoyable that as soon as it opens I’m actually going to go back and pay actually pay cash money to see it. And how often does a film critic bother paying to see a film?

Movie Review: The Nice Guys
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