At the movies: ‘The Nice Guys’
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
THE NICE GUYS
Directed By Shane Black
Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger
Warner Bros, Rated R, Action, Comedy, 116 minutes
Shane Black cowrote and directed “Nice Guys,” a film set in Los Angeles during the heyday of television’s premier private investigator, James Garner of “The Rockford Files” (1974-1980). Although his character is used as a patsy, Ryan Gosling’s P.I., Holland March, has little chance of showcasing Rockford’s talent for making his patsy seem smarter than the guys pulling the patsy’s strings.
Before long, we learn that Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has more in common with Tom Selleck’s Lance White, the overly-confident “himbo” who consistently lucks his way into solving Rockford’s cases — much to the latter’s consternation.
What March does have going for him is a fashionable 70s wardrobe and a soft-spoken way with the fairer sex. However, beyond the occasional insight, March is a ding-a-ling, who’s best bet is taking orders from Holly (Angourie Rice), his precocious, 13-year-old daughter. Able to easily discern what her father can not, Holly rightly observes, “You’re the worst private detective, ever!”
In addition to the help Holly provides, March could benefit from a dark twin to bring on the muscle. That person is enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). Breaking the odd arm for a buck, Healy claims, “what I’d really like is to be useful.” He isn’t all bad. Healy first meets Marsh to deliver a message. But before doing so, he considerately informs March, “Tell your doctor that you have a spiral fracture of the radius” (cue the crunching sound you next hear).
Soon enough, Healy discovers he’s been on the wrong side of that case, and so he hires March, who will ultimately be paid by three different clients who are tangled up in the particulars of dead porn star Misty Mountains.
Crowe’s Healy is a skeptical grump who doesn’t think twice about killing an injured villain who is no longer capable of defending himself. What Healy requires is a conscience, and once again March’s daughter Holly steps in to fill the gap. She treats Healy like an uncle while demanding he embody her definition of a good person.
In case the setup makes you chuckle, then I’ve probably done a better job telling it than the film, which is a long slog through a very, very shagaliscious plot.
That isn’t to say it’s unpleasant, but precisely how many “Forrest Gump” films does the world need before we understand that nice, somewhat stupid folk will be lucky and prevail? Crowe and Gosling fit that bill, but stumbling upon clue after clue, rather than learning answers through thoughtful investigation, gets older than two hours should allow.
Matt Bomer does a creepy turn as bad guy John Boy, while Kim Basinger is equally unsettling as an ultra-botoxed District Attorney. Sadly, you’ll have both of these characters’ numbers long before March and Healy do.
In its favor, the film’s action scenes are unusually imaginative, especially one involving a film reel that really gets around, as in out-bouncing and out-rolling its gun-toting pursuers over a matter of several long minutes. Likewise, March, who is prone to drink too much, takes a tumble off a Hollywood Hills balcony in a manner that would make The Three Stooges envious.
Whether four or five ingenious scenes are enough to justify a two-hour film only audiences can say, but I prefer a “Road Runner” cartoon, which compacts the same laughs and thrills into about 10 minutes. You can’t say too much (or can you?), in favor of economical comedy.