If you didn’t already know it was the seventies, then ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ should give it away, not to mention Shane Black’s opening credits. Before you’re half a minute in, you’re already thinking about Jackie Brown and Shaft, whether you want to or not.
It’s California, 1977, and the dark skyline we’re introduced to invites us to delve into what we can anticipate will be the nefarious under-dealings of what we can only hope will be the lives of some engaging and well-rounded individuals. Some good, some bad, but hopefully, all intriguing.
Black wastes no time in setting the scene, with a car hurtling down a hillside and through the unfortunate house that happens to be standing in its way and we’re immediately curious about why. There is a story wrapped up in a conundrum here, we tell ourselves, and just how it pans out may well be the hook on which The Nice Guys stands or falls.
As far as ‘cool’ goes, the likes of those mentioned above need not tremble for too long, as whilst these Nice Guys are certainly entertaining, Black has failed to really instill any kudos into something that really wants to be Boogie Nights, given half a chance. It is neither as well-written nor as funny and if not completely bereft of actual tension, then certainly in need of adrenalin in places. Like me, you might find yourself wondering just whether this is supposed to be funny or not, as it is often quite difficult to tell.
Grizzled muscle Jackson Healy (Crowe) and Investigator Holland March (Gosling) are forced to work together to unravel the mystery of a missing girl and a dead porn star (who died in the accident with the car and the house). As we would have hoped, their dealings put them in contact with some initially interesting, but unfortunately less well-rounded characters, which goes some way to explaining the lack of engagement.
Crowe’s performance is unchallenging and the amount of effort he needs to expend to get from opening to closing credits is evident by the amount the audience will feel for him. Nonetheless, he passes muster. Gosling fares better, as the demands are greater and the arc of his character is a little more demanding. The acting really isn’t the issue. The plot, pacing and script need attention, as the whole affair is altogether too clichéd, obvious and linear.
To be fair and in its defence, the film does entertain sporadically throughout and a decent performance from Angourie Rice helps its cause, though never quite manages to save it. Not stylish enough to impress with the visuals or the swagger, it relies on everything else to back up its claims of authenticity, and what there is of it, doesn’t inspire enough to get quite onto the edge of your seat.
Over-rated by many, this is not the Gosling vehicle we would have rightly expected given previous form. For Crowe, however, this is just about on point for a more recent career that has few real highlights to speak of.