by Alan Yudman
Shane Black owns the mystery/buddy/comedy genre. KISS KISS BANG BANG was a fantastic movie. THE NICE GUYS owes more than a nod of the cap that movie.
Think of both movies as a modern version of Raymond Chandler, but with more funny and blood. Los Angeles is a character in both films. KISS KISS it is modern L.A. In THE NICE GUYS, it is the 1970’s version filled with decay, disco and porn. The film begins with the death of porn star Misty Mountains whose car careens off a hillside road and through the kitchen of a home. We soon meet Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling). Crowe is a thug and enforcer who has been hired by an actress who wants him to “influence” a guy who has been stalking her. Unfortunately that guy isn’t a stalker. It’s Gosling’s private eye who has been hired to find her.
Gosling is a washed up cop who is hiding his sorrow over the loss of his wife in a fire by drinking everything in site. That’s complicated because he has a 13-year-old daughter (the fabulous Angourie Rice). He basically gets hired by the elderly and tries to milk his fee as much as he can. His daughter Holly is all that’s holding him together.
Crowe and Gosling meet when Crowe breaks his arm to warn him off the actress. But soon they both discover more is going on here. The conspiracy involves Detroit automakers, auteur porn directors and a lot of naked women and death.
The two detectives stumble across clues and in brief moments of clarity figure out what is going on and what they have to do.
THE NICE GUYS is wickedly funny and the chemistry and comic timing between Crowe and Gosling is shockingly great. The mystery is Chandler worthy, but never resolves itself in a satisfying way. There’s nothing wrong with that. As Jack Nicholson was told, “it’s Chinatown Jake”. In this case, it’s L.A. Jackson and Holland… it’s L.A. And all you can do is try to endure and come out with your heart intact. That message is too deep for this film. It’s not really about that. It’s about two hours of fabulous buddy cop mystery and humor. Shane Black needs to make more of these style movies. He’s brilliant at it.