The Blundering Beauty of The Nice Guys

By: Chris Mendizabal

In the midst of the Summer blockbuster torrent, Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys” (2016) comes blundering through and reeking of alcohol, leaving behind trails of shattered glass.

Surely this would make for a haphazard action mess, were it not so entertaining and fresh. Films labelled ‘formulaic’ often receive a low reputation, as something replete with the humdrum and the uninspired, but “The Nice Guys” is one of those films that, to its advantage, knows exactly what it is and is not.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an unscrupulous, not-so-hard-boiled private investigator in 1977 Los Angeles. When Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a hired intimidator—knocking on doors, selling sucker punches—chances upon March through their mutual person of interest, a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), the two are compelled, by a matter of money over heroism, to investigate her disappearance. The mystery becomes ever so confounding when Amelia is discovered to be linked with a prominent pornographic actress, a near-blind grandma, and a protest group, to name a few.

What adds to the verisimilitude of the 1970s L.A. Action flick are the curious deaths, missing persons, and paranoia so often associated with the conspiratorial and drug-hazed ethos of that time. The depth of mysteries is compounded when the Department of Justice involves itself in the disappearance of Amelia. As the web of conspiracies ostensibly substantiates and the body count goes up, the story seems something like a Pynchon novel, at least until the scenes of violent slapstick and explosive action commence. And though the amount of action is sparing in comparison to most action films, it is enough to appease the fans without veering away from the sharply-written story.

Shane Black’s and Anthony Bagarozzi’s script is witty in dialogue and inventive with the tropes and cliches of the genre it so proudly places itself in. The two leads are less sentimental and divulgent in the reveals of their earlier lives than in the typical Buddy film, but shed enough information to flesh out March and Healy as people with an offset, if lost, sense of purpose in life. The shred of intimacy that there may be between the two is swiftly displaced by March’s snoring or his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), remaining faithful to the duo’s air of coolness. And while the two are similar in their aloof demeanor, their partnership is at no point either chummy or abrasive. Yet March’s shrill screams and Healy’s bulky punches still make a great combo.

Unlike most young actors, Rice’s acting abilities are something that enhance rather than hinder the interactions between characters. Rice plays an intelligent and eager sidekick who, to March’s chagrin, frequently tags along to lush L.A. parties and ends her sentences with “n’ stuff.”—he corrects her, “Just say, Dad, there are whores here.” Nevertheless, her prominence amid the murky investigation is a delight.

The humour, ranging from dark one-liners to good ol’ fashioned slapstick, with some screwball wedged in between, is something best left to be seen and heard. When it comes down to the action blockbuster heap, this film comes out on top. Maybe they ought to refashion that age-old adage about Nice Guys.

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