The Nice Guys is a harmlessly good time built on co-star chemistry 

Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe play Holland March and - Jackson Healy in The Nice Guys. | Photo Warner Bros. / provided - DANIEL MCFADDEN
  • Daniel McFadden
  • Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe play Holland March and Jackson Healy in The Nice Guys. | Photo Warner Bros. / provided

The chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling is so good in The Nice Guys, you might legitimately hope they’re just hanging out in real life, rolling around Hollywood, occasionally solving crimes.

Set in the 1970s, The Nice Guys is peppered with so many signifiers of the time period that the viewer is apt to yell, “We get it! This movie is set in the 1970s!”

The film is an amiable action flick hung loosely on the skeleton of a shaggy dog detective story. The drama is low, riding mostly in the background and largely unspoken, with much more focus put on the interaction of perpetually drunk private investigator Holland March (Gosling) and unlicensed tough guy Jackson Healy (Crowe).

But the real driver is Angourie Rice, who plays March’s daughter Holly. Though it’s left mostly unexplored, there’s a tragic backstory to the March family, including a dead mother and a burned home. Holly, like many teenagers faced with adversity, is trying to cope with her own pain while keeping her father functional.

So it’s little wonder that she’s so immediately taken with Healy, who — despite breaking her father’s arm — seems to live by some kind of a code. And when he shows up to hire March to find a girl who doesn’t want to be found, Holly goads her father into taking the job.

The Nice Guys seems to have no idea where it’s going, and that’s simultaneously a joy and a frustration. True to March’s description of detective work, there’s a lot of driving around, lucking into clues and being largely unable to do anything about anything.

Like many detective movies before it, and in some ways reminiscent of The Big Lebowski, the story starts with a missing person and rolls into something more. The detectives, such as they are, seem the least aware of what’s going on. But their single-minded pursuit of Amelia (The Leftovers’ Margaret Qualley) leads them through shootouts, fistfights, a porno party and so many broken panes of glass it becomes its own comic relief.

Ably directed and co-written by Shane Black, who made his name in Hollywood as the creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise, The Nice Guys is a peppy little trifle. It’s a shoutout to the action films of the 1970s and the buddy comedies Black helped popularize in the 1980s and ’90s.

It is also juvenile, messy, loud and full of violence and nudity. It’s a good time if you’re looking for one, but it’s not going to change your life. This movie seems destined to be a fun way to waste an afternoon while you’re folding laundry; it’s engaging enough to stay interesting, but not so riveting or plot-intensive that you can’t grab the socks out of the dryer when you hear the buzz.

Happily, The Nice Guys even sets up its own low-stakes sequel. Will Hollywood finance another slapstick buddy detective flick with two of the industry’s biggest stars? That probably depends on how much fun Crowe and Gosling had making the original. Because if this funny little distraction brings in enough at the box office, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine seeing The Nicer Guys in a theater in a couple of years.

How Black will find more material to express that the story is set in the 1970s is the real challenge. There’s only so much Yoo-hoo, lines of cars waiting for gas and clashing patterned shirts to go around.

Print headline: Nicely done, The Nice Guys doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s an amusing action flick from two of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

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