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The Nice Guys' finish first

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Buddy comedy an entertaining throwback

If you've watched and enjoyed any sort of action-oriented buddy comedy over the past three decades, you owe a debt of gratitude to Shane Black. Black's screenplay for 'Lethal Weapon' back in 1987 essentially defined that particular style; things have shifted and evolved in the 30 years since, but the basic DNA is still there.

Black's time in the director's chair, on the other hand, has been more recent (and certainly limited), but undeniably fascinating (2005's 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' and 2013's 'Iron Man 3').

He's back directing his own script (co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi) with 'The Nice Guys,' a late-70s-set buddy movie that brings together a richly-realized setting, a smoothly complicated plot and a fantastic cast to make one first-rate piece of action comedy.

Los Angeles. 1977. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, 'Fathers and Daughters') is a hired goon, the sort of guy who will punch the face or break an arm of anyone you'd like so long as you pay in advance. There's nothing personal in what Jackson does he's just trying to make a living.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling, 'The Big Short') is a private investigator who works on the seedy side of the street. He's a chain-smoking heavy drinker whose flexible morality allows him to charge (and overcharge) the gullible and the desperate. He's also a single father, trying to raise the precocious young Holly (Angourie Rice, 'Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows') on his own.

Jackson and Holland cross paths when Jackson is enlisted by a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, TV's 'The Leftovers') to get Holland to stop searching for her, which he does with extreme prejudice. However, it soon becomes clear that Amelia is into something big something that brings ruthless thugs right to Jackson's door. Reluctantly, Jackson and Holland team up.

The duo discovers that they have stumbled onto what might be a massive conspiracy, one that encompasses the burgeoning adult film industry, the environmental movement and the height-of-its-powers Detroit automobile industry, not to mention the Department of Justice and the Mafia (including a mysterious assassin known only as 'John Boy' (Matt Bomer, 'Magic Mike XXL')).

As the two bumble and brawl and stumble and shoot their way through L.A., they're left with no choice but to trust one another, regardless of how untrustworthy they might be. If they're going to get out of this alive not to mention get paid they're going to have to do it together.

Any conversation about 'The Nice Guys' has to start with the stars at its center. The notion of pairing Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe sounds borderline absurd on the surface, a kind of Mad Libs casting that basically fails to make sense. But it works. It REALLY works.

Gosling's patter-heavy dialogue and general embrace of active skeeziness makes him a delight, while Crowe uses his ever-increasing heft to great advantage as an aging and philosophical brute. Each of them finds ways to turn these kind of terrible people into engaging, empathetic heroes. Wellfor a given value of 'heroes' anyway. The chemistry between the two of them is astounding, whether you're talking about comedic timing or action sequences or the odd moment of genuine pathos. They click so thoroughly that within minutes, you can't imagine anyone having ever had doubts about the pairing.

In short, they're tremendous together.

Additionally, mention needs to be made of Rice. Young actors rarely progress past the point of 'necessary evil' in films like this one; they often lack the sophistication to present any real nuance. Rice is very much the exception, putting a precociousness of talent and understanding on display that you almost never see. Qualley and Bomer are good in limited roles, as is Kim Basinger.

(Note: Gil Gerard is in this movie, and while it is almost certainly a bit of 70s-related stunt casting, it doesn't even matter because BUCK ROGERS IS IN THIS MOVIE YOU GUYS!)

The Los Angeles through which these characters roam is a weird and stylized wonderland. Black isn't particularly concerned with the real-world timeline, choosing instead to fill his world with sights and sounds that shout the 70s without being bound to 1977 proper. Even the movie's structure and pacing feel vintage. The end result is an endlessly compelling landscape that is utterly of the era. The cars, the clothes, the music it's all there and it's all fantastic.

This is the sort of movie that Shane Black was born to make and he knows it. There's a wild joyfulness that permeates every punch and every punchline; the action is funny and the humor is action-packed. Everyone involved in this movie looks to be having a ball (and let's be real, anyone who can make Russell Crowe look not only non-miserable, but actually funny, deserves some sort of trophy).

'The Nice Guys' is a throwback in all the right ways, using a meticulously-constructed world and an absolutely exceptional central pairing to make a movie that is even better than you think it will be. Action-packed, clever, funny and surprisingly tender at times, it checks all the boxes for not just an excellent buddy comedy, but an excellent movie period.

[5 out of 5]


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