Nice Try

Shane Black’s buddy detective movie is good but not great

I'm a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Shane Black's scrappy, funny 2005 directorial debut. Black hasn't been doing a lot of directing in its aftermath, with his lone theatrical directing credit since then being Iron Man 3, the second strongest Iron Man in the franchise.

He's back to grittier, film noir mode with The Nice Guys, a grimy detective story starring a game Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. The movie is good. Just good. It's often so good, it's painful to witness the moments that don't work.

Crowe plays Jackson Healy, an L.A. loser who takes punch-in-the-face requests from people. Folks pay him to rough up child molesters, for the most part. He gets an assignment from Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who wants him to pay a visit to private detective Holland March (Gosling), a visit that turns out to be hilariously infused with comic violence.

Holland and Jackson wind up working on a case together, one that involves Amelia, a dead porn star, and a gun for hire named John Boy because he has a mole on his face (Matt Bomer, relishing the chance to be super nasty).

When Gosling and Crowe are allowed to go off, the movie purrs on all cylinders. It's when Black's script (co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi) leads to a conspiracy involving Amelia's mother, played by Kim Bassinger, that it stalls out. That's mainly because Bassinger is tone-deaf in this film. She doesn't seem to know what kind of movie she is in, and her line delivery is woefully over-the-top. In short, she's blazingly terrible in her every scene.

I don't blame Black for casting Bassinger in an L.A. movie with Crowe. The two, of course, shared the screen in L.A. Confidential, and the idea of them together again is enticing. Bassinger won an Oscar (undeserved) for that movie, but she won't be getting any awards for this one. Unless you count the "Bob Grimm Takes the Movie Down a Ratings Point Because You Sucked So Much Award" as a legitimate accolade.

The movie is more than saved by the Gosling/Crowe pairing. There's a wonderful goofiness to many of their scenes. Crowe has a spit take that just might be his greatest screen moment ever, and Gosling has a Lou Costello stammering moment over a dead body that is hysterical. Actually, this movie almost counts as some sort of 1970s Abbott and Costello remake, with Crowe a twisted Abbott and Gosling the bumbling, drunken Costello.

Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling's whip-smart daughter Holly, is a true scene-stealer, and this will count as her breakthrough role. She more than holds her own against Gosling and Crowe, and is often the most adult character in the movie. The young Aussie actress gets extra points for her spot on American accent.

The visual palette is impeccably 70s. The film captures the rundown look of L.A. with nice touches, including a beat-up Hollywood sign along with Tower Records and Jaws 2 billboards. There are lots of grays and browns in this film, with the occasional spark of hot pink and disco lights. As somebody who was a young little dumbass in that decade, I felt transported watching the film.

Gosling and Crowe are great together, and they should consider pairing up again for future films. They are so good you will forgive the film's inconsistencies and convoluted plot. You won't forgive Bassinger, though. Her cinematic crimes are unforgivable.

I would love to see Crowe and Gosling in a monster movie. Universal Studios should abandon all of those modern spins on Frankenstein currently churning out and just put these two in a period piece as a couple of bungling idiots trying to defeat the lurching beast. A great comic duo has been born.

Actually, Shane Black's next movie is The Predator, a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger monster movie. Nobody has been officially cast yet. Get offers out to Crowe and Gosling...stat!