It’s the high times of the Seventies, in sunny Los Angeles, California. Our story begins with two men: Holland March (Ryan Gosling; Drive, Only God Forgives) and Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe; Gladiator, Les Misérables). March is a private detective, though the mundanity of the majority of his cases has disillusioned him and driven him to the bottle, a situation resented by his young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). Healy is a local freelance enforcer, a consummate professional who will beat his targets senseless without any malice or ill will. Our two protagonists first meet when March is hired to find a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, The Leftovers) and Healy is separately hired to persuade March from pursuing the very same job. However, when Healy is almost killed by professional hitmen, he and March are forced to team up to find Amelia. Soon, they discover that her disappearance is part of a much larger conspiracy involving the Department of Justice, a group of auto manufacturers, and a recently murdered porn star named Misty Mountains.
Looking back on The Nice Guys, I can’t help but compare it to the last private detective movie I reviewed: Inherent Vice. It’s certainly not the best comparison, but since they’re both 70s movies I can’t help but associate them in my mind. However, where Inherent Vice was an affectionate parody of Private I tropes and stories, The Nice Guys is an unironic embrace of those same tropes. It’s pretty much a prototypical Private I and 70s movie, and that’s not a bad thing- it’s fun, it’s action-packed, and it’s a bit silly at times. It actually feels somewhat like a classic buddy cop movie, except that the main characters aren’t actually cops.
The Nice Guys is a throwback film, a foray into a time long past and a genre rarely seen anymore. Or more specifically, rarely seen played so straight. The movie is full of catchy one-liners, stereotypical Seventies characters and tropes, and no particular attempt to feel either relevant or edgy in any way. This is not to say that the film is completely unoriginal or formulaic- the inclusion of Holland’s young daughter as a main character is an interesting choice which prevents Gosling and Crowe from machoing up the whole movie. But as a whole, this is a film which earnestly immerses itself in its genre and setting, and doesn’t take itself particularly seriously.
The Nice Guys is not an amazing film. It won’t win any major awards, and it’s probably not the film I’ll associate Gosling or Crowe with when I think of them in the future. But it is a fun, funny, and generally entertaining film, particularly as a relief from the never-ending stream of superheroes and super dark and gritty action movies so ubiquitous these days. It’s, to use an old (Seventies?) phrase, “good, wholesome fun”. Whether you like Seventies movies, Private I movies, or just want to see a generally fun movie, you can’t go wrong with The Nice Guys.
Grade: B (Groovy)