Comedies are often difficult to review because humor is so subjective among the viewing audience. Some people love loud, screaming nonsense punctuated with bodily harm. Others like sophisticated word-plays and “clever” dialogue that relies on established call-backs. Yet despite its marketing, The Nice Guys isn’t really a comedy but a action-comedic take on a 1940’s noir film.
Yeah, if that sounds weird, imagine paying to see a comedy and two hours later, walking out of an action/parody thriller.
The main strength of the movie is its excellent cast. Russell Crowe’s character is an enforcer whose methods are fairly direct. It’s a good contrast to Ryan Gosling’s role; a smartass private investigator who despite his incompetence (he’s dubbed the worst detective in the world by his own daughter, who also is kinda his secretary) occasionally has flashes of mad genius. If the movie was two hours of the duo bantering and interacting with one another (and Angourie Rice, who plays Ryan Gosling’s daughter), it’d be a great film.
Instead, the film struggles to find its footing between “comedy/parody” and “action conspiracy thriller.” The film’s plot revolves around Crowe and Gosling trying to locate a missing person and end up stumbling upon a vast conspiracy involving the federal government, Detroit car companies and the Los Angeles porn industry. There’s a good parody film that could be made with those elements but The Nice Guys fails to walk the line separating “comedy” from “serious.”
Take the film’s climax, for instance. It’s mostly an action set-piece but the moments where comedy is implemented really throws the film off-balance. There’s a scene where the duo are held up at gunpoint and then Ryan Gosling makes a sudden move trying to grab a gun from Russell Crowe’s leg. Crowe doesn’t actually have an “ankle gun” because Gosling hallucinated him having one earlier in the film…but the person holding them at gun point just stands there with a weird look on their face. Why doesn’t the gun-toting individual just shoot Gosling, especially if that person has told him to not to make any sudden moves!
If you’re nostalgic for the 1970’s, The Nice Guys should more than fit the bill. There are some moments that are legitimately funny and they mostly come from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling having fantastic chemistry. The problem is the film never decides on its identity and any moment it comes close to doing so, it shifts gears. Not recommended!