‘The Nice Guys’ gives gore, guns and glib humor

Colleen Kelly

Buddy cop movies are making a comeback.

As with the smash hit “Zootopia” earlier this year, “The Nice Guys” proved that audiences still have a taste for this classic film genre. “The Nice Guys” takes place in 1970s Los Angeles where enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is hired by a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to throw private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) off her trail. After completing the job, Healy realizes that Amelia was wrong and is actually being targeted by a much worse force. Begrudgingly, Healy recruits March to help him track down Amelia and face L.A.’s seedy underbelly.

This isn’t a film you normally see today. This didn’t feel like a 2016 movie set in 1977. It feels like it could have come out alongside other classic films from that decade. What “The Nice Guys” did so perfectly was capture not only the look of time period, but its rhythm, atmosphere and storytelling style.

The humor in this film is the best kind of dark, reminiscent of Tarantino. It flirts with slapstick (done right) and had everyone in my theater either giggle-whispering “Oh my god” or in outright belly laughs. It didn’t rely on toilet humor (save for one literal toilet scene), and it wasn’t afraid to make fun of itself at times.

Our main characters as well as their actors had dynamite chemistry. Healy is that quintessential cool guy in buddy cop movies: the one with the calm, methodical approach and some skewed sense of morality. His primary concern is kids. He specializes in cases where children or teenagers are being abused or targeted, and he has no qualms with killing to keep them safe. March is the clown between the two of them. Still reeling from his wife’s death, March is an alcoholic needing to be driven around by his precocious 13-year-old daughter. He will take a job from anyone and will lie and cheat his way into the biggest payoff without a second thought. What makes these two work is that despite their numerous flaws, we still like them. We certainly don’t want to know them in real life, but we want them to win.

I may never say this again in my life, but the child actor stole the show. Younger talent often makes or breaks a project, and March’s daughter Holly¬†(Angourie Rice) was the real star on camera. She was more of a parent to her father than he was to her, and when it wasn’t hilarious, it was poignant. Her actress’s straight-faced comedic timing and unexpected maturity make Rice an actress to keep an eye on in coming years.

Performances aside, the story’s overall ride was one of the most fun I have had all year. At its core, “The Nice Guys” is a detective story. Between the action-packed shootouts and fun, fast-paced dialogue was a mystery begging to be solved and kept me interested the whole way through. The film opens with the death of an adult film star somehow tied to Amelia. As Healy and March try to track down Amelia, they’re also trying to puzzle together what connects her with the string of recent film industry murders and why three top-notch hitmen are pursuing her.

Unfortunately, the story was this film’s only real flaw. The story was predictable at times, and too reliant on shock factor at others. It was the final third that didn’t quite work for me. Something about the big reveal and subsequent aftermath was too convoluted for my blood. Yes, this film was wonderfully whacky, but the answers we eventually got to the mystery at hand asked me to suspend my disbelief a bit too much.

Still, though, I left the theater feeling satisfied. The performances were great, and the writing, style and design of “The Nice Guys” are a step above what we expect in a summer movie. Director Shane Black was a little too trigger happy with pop culture references, but that can be forgiven. The way he chose to tie the film up, though, cannot. Overall, “The Nice Guys” was a blast and a half. It just could have done with some tweaking in the script.

Rating: 4/5 stars