It's 1977 Los Angeles. Star Wars has premiered. Disco is in full swing. And porn star Misty Mountains has just died (spectacularly). It's pretty disturbing then that dodgy licensed private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has been hired two days later to find Misty by the slightly kooky Mrs Glenn (Lois Smith, the equally kooky doctor in "Minority Report") who saw her through the windows of Misty's home. Never one to turn down a pay check, Holland takes the case and the trail leads him to search for a missing girl called Amelia (Margaret Qualley). This leads him right into the substantial fists of the 'heavy for hire' Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe), who's been hired by Amelia NOT to be found. But it's clear that Amelia is at the centre of a tornado of intrigue, since her mother Judith (Kim Basinger) is head of the Justice department and there are some heavies from New York and Detroit looking for Amelia too.
As the film's tag-line admits "The Nice Guys" are "far from nice", and this is a sort of bromance buddy movie of the likes of "Lethal Weapon". (And that comparison is 100% valid since - and I honestly discovered this after I wrote that - director Shane Black ("Iron Man 3") got into cinema by writing the screenplay for the original "Lethal Weapon" back in 1987). But "The Nice Guys" has an edge that those films of the 80's couldn't have got away with. Subtle it ain't. There is a lot of violence, a bit of 70's porn and some fruity language that sensitive viewers may find offensive. (All in all, it's a bit of a surprise that it got away with a '15' certificate in the UK).
But it's also insanely funny at times. Some of the sight gags are laugh out loud material (and I don't tend to act on that often in a packed cinema). You might recall in "Diamond's Are Forever" that a Vegas hood tosses Plenty O' Toole out of Bond's hotel window. "Good Shot" quips Bond. "I didn't know there was a pool down there" responds the hoodlum. The basics of this scene are given a fresh and wonderfully gory rework that is truly memorable.
Gosling and Crowe have great chemistry together (although the degree of acting required by Crowe is debatable: he looks and acts like he seems to in most media interviews!) Some of their dialogue appears distinctly ad-libbed, which shows how comfortable they were with the roles. And Matt Bomer and Beau Knapp make memorably crazed villains. A role that unfortunately does irritate is Qualley's: the character of Amelia is supposed to be a bit crazed, but her speaking part is 120% off the scale.
The acting star of the show though is young Australian Angourie Rice as Holland's morally-centred and bright daughter Holly, who steals just about every scene she's in. A young lady to watch for the future.
1970's LA is nicely realised, with nice little subliminal drop-in shots: a Jaws 2 poster; Tower Records; the original Hollywood Tower Hotel. And the film naturally attracts some banging' 70's tunes to the soundtrack, with Al Green peerless over the closing titles.
But it's not perfect. The plot is quite impenetrable (I'm still unclear exactly what the relationship between Misty and Amelia was). And Black's screenplay (written with Anthony Bagarozzi) over-eggs the pudding of the final showdown scene. But while it won't be to everyone's tastes, I thought it was a blast from beginning to end: a guilty pleasure of bad taste that begs for a sequel. I would go to see the Gosling/Crowe show again. One of the most entertaining films of the year so far.
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