The Nice Guys

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Nice Guys
"Gosling and Crowe are wondrous sparring partners."

1977 - L.A. - night - a house in the hills - a dog - a young boy fishes out a girlie magazine from underneath a bed - we see a car fly through the air through the window behind him before it crashes into the house. The vehicle belongs to the woman on the cover of the magazine, her name is Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) and her dying words are in the form of a question - "How do you like my car, big boy?" before he gently covers her with his pajama top.

The tone of Shane Black's detective comedy noir has been set, a successful blend of nostalgia and invention that relies heavily on linking the most absurd ingredients to great effect. Cars, children, coincidences, mysterious women and destroyed houses are only a few of the threads pulled through balmy nights and smoggy days. There are mysteries to be solved in the city, and a dubiously ill-fitted team is taking up the challenge - Philip Marlowe voiceover included.

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Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, who lets his fist speak first when it comes to catching predators. Ryan Gosling's private detective Holland March is less punchy, with his arm in a cast, and relies on his special, unique kind of charm. The rented house (with an empty pool and gracious, avocado-tinted wallpaper) he shares with his 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice - a name to watch out for), a brave girl who doesn't condone hogwash, neither from her girlfriends nor from the ever changing array of adults around her.

The relationship has something of Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon to it and Holly makes a formidable third detective on the team. When her father first introduces her to Healy, she considers hiring him to beat up her school friend Janet (Maddie Compton). All the while she is tough and, at the same time, a little girl. Costume designer Kym Barrett gives her a great ladybug necklace and puts her in terrific high-waisted pants. She has her own style among the wild winding fashions of the Seventies.

You are only in any real danger when you see a giant bumblebee or have a vision of Richard Nixon. Children are represented as full-fledged people here, not just cute character trait accessories. The kid on a bike (Lance Valentine Butler) and Holly and her friends push the envelope and drive the story with their inappropriate quips and loose lips.

Gosling and Crowe are wondrous sparring partners. The verbal punches outshine all others with dialogue as crisp as a biscuit and delivered to splendid effect by these nice guys in rumpled suits with pointy lapels. Who is delivering the lines can be as funny as what is being said in The Nice Guys, co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi. Situational comedy at its best. A smog-kills protest group plays dead, wearing gas masks, holding up signs stating For The Birds. Timing is everything for Chet, the projectionist (Jack Kilmer).

There is a bad guy with blue paint on his face, like Jean-Paul Belmondo in Pierrot Le Fou, because he couldn't resist temptation in a bag and another evil one, called John-Boy (Matt Bomer), the last in a line of Waltons breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the film. What exactly are the detectives looking for? A girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) disappeared. No, not the one flying across the Pacific. Her mother Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) is the head of the Department of Justice. Lois Smith, sporting the thickest of eye glasses as the aunt of Misty, the porn star, insists that she saw her niece alive, two days after she died.

An adult industry Hollywood party winks at Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers' classic, The Party, with one eye and undresses favourite and invented fairy-tale characters with the other. There are a couple of mermaids, a kind of Pinocchio, a white rabbit, a tree man out of Michelangelo Frammartino's Alberi, Pocahontas, and a guest with a wig made from cigarettes.

When Holly shows up, her father is concerned about her vocabulary. "Dad, there's like whores here and stuff," she says. "Sweetheart," he says, "how many times have I told you, don't say 'and stuff'. Just say, 'Dad, there are whores here.'"

In the end, The Nice Guys is a film about words after all. Healy likes his word of the day - "equanimity" is one of them - a nice coverup for his behaviour. March seems more of an approximate phonetics guy: "Guy without his balls - a munich."

Reviewed on: 15 May 2016
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The Nice Guys packshot
An unlikely duo of detectives searches for a missing girl in 1977 Los Angeles.
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Director: Shane Black

Writer: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

Starring: Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Lance Valentine Butler, Jack Kilmer, Maddie Compton, Ty Simpkins, Murielle Telio

Year: 2016

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: UK, US

Festivals:

Cannes 2016

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