The Nice Guys review: A buddy-cop movie done right

There's a specific formula that must be met in order to make a good buddy-cop movie. One wrong step, and the whole thing can fall apart. It has to be funny, but take itself seriously even in the most ridiculous situations.

The two main characters brought together to solve the investigation have to be likeable despite their obvious flaws. Most importantly, as they uncover more clues about whatever their case may be — usually it involves a missing person — there has to be a level of growth and maturity that we see them go through.

Fortunately, director Shane Black has proven before that he knows the secret recipe to making a great buddy-cop film. If Kiss Kiss Bang Bang — Black's film from 2005 that starred Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer — was an idea of what the director was capable of, The Nice Guys confirms that no one's doing the subgenre as much justice as Black is.

While it's hard to say one is better than the other, The Nice Guys is without a doubt one of Black's best films to date.

Nice Guys

The film stars Russell Crowe as enforcer Jackson Healy and Ryan Gosling as private detective Holland March. Healy, a bitter and lonely middle-aged man, wants nothing to do with the people he's forced to interact with on a daily basis in 1970's Los Angeles. He's tired of the scene, tired of the desolate direction the city is headed in and tired of the crime he sees day in and day out.

March, a former member of the LAPD turned alcoholic private eye, has begun to use his new business to rip off wealthy retirees in order to keep food on the table for him and his daughter, Holly (played by Angourie Rice).

When a mysterious women named Amelia (played by Margaret Qualley) brings the two of them together, their lives are turned into utter disarray as they uncover some of the darkest stories lurking in the shadows of the city, taking them from amateur porn sets all the way to the justice department.

The Nice Guys is without a doubt one of Black's best films to date

The biggest takeaway from the film is just how well Crowe and Gosling work together as a team. Much like in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the relationship between the two leads on screen is vital to the success of the film. While Crowe and Gosling differ quite a bit from Downey Jr. and Kilmer, there are a few similarities in the set up of characters that works for both movies. Gosling, much like Downey Jr., is a bit of a renegade. Young, handsome and with the world at his fingertips, he's used to things being exceptionally easy for him, while still fighting to be taken seriously by those both inside and outside of his field. Crowe, like Kilmer, is a weathered veteran of the scene, whose dealings with the worst of the worst have led him to become untrusting of anyone around him.

Together, the two complement each other perfectly and like any good buddy-cop film, they inevitably learn something important about themselves through their new relationship.

The Nice Guys is less emotionally invested in itself than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was, but during scenes that lack the vulnerability of the latter, the comedic aspect is turned way up in the former. Black, who also wrote the film, has a knack for comedy. Just take a look at his slate of movies, including Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. When Black wants to be funny, he goes above and beyond just writing down a joke or two to tie the scene over. Instead, he writes scenes that are laced with smart, observant jokes that can often take minutes to get to the punchline. But, Black finds a way to make it work in a movie like The Nice Guys, which moves unbelievably fast in such a short amount of time.

Ryan Goslling and Russell Crowe peer into the camera in The Nice Guys Image: Warner Home Video

But again, the comedy only works in The Nice Guys because Black gets the audience to care about these two characters pretty early on. He has a way of making even the most detestable character someone you want to root for.

To say that March and Healy are characters you wouldn't want to root for is a bit of an understatement. We grow to care about them because Black paints them as the epitome of human beings with flawed tendencies, but if we take them at face value, they're pretty horrible. Healy goes around injuring people for a living and March is an alcoholic, neglectful father.

For all intents and purposes, they're total assholes. But, you do care for them, and that's just another testament to Black's ability as both a writer and director.

Another aspect of Black's films that can get lost in the mix of the chaos happening on screen, and should be called to attention, is his use of music and effects to make a movie feel as authentic as possible.

Part of The Nice Guys appeal is its 1970's setting. Everything from the music to the costumes to the overall ambience of the city itself is enamoring to the point where you don't really want to leave it, even when the credits start rolling.

For all intents and purposes, they're total assholes

Much like how Woody Allen often used New York City as a character in his movies, Black doesn't just use Los Angeles as a backdrop, but instead, as something to interact with. The Los Angeles he often pictures in his movies is a vibrant and illusive character that hovers throughout the entire movie like a morning fog; we're aware of it, we're in awe of it, but it's not overly distracting. Instead, it silently adds to what we're already seeing and is a transformative part of Black's films.

Tied with the music, which Black uses at just the right times, the director creates a whimsical world based in the footprints of reality and it's that kind of movie making magic that draws me back to his films time and time again.

That's not to say there aren't flaws with The Nice Guys, because there definitely are, but they're minor in scale.

Nice Guys

For example, certain areas of the movie feel rushed. There are moments I wish Black had slowed it down and examined the scene a little more in-depth. There are also a few characters that are introduced that feel otherwise wasted, and like some of Black's previous writing, there are moments where it would be totally understandable to feel a little confused.

But for the most part, the misdemeanors that work against the movie also work for it. The fact that it's quick, has an intricate storyline and has an abundance of questionable characters that Healy and March must interact with make it the kind of movie that it is.

What The Nice Guys could have benefited from was an additional edit on the script, just to make it that much tighter and cut off some of these loose ends, but these mishaps are not glaring disasters that distract from the movie. Not in the slightest.

The Nice Guys is a piece of contemporary cinema that encompasses everything I love about where we are. It's self-aware, it's clever and above all else, it accepts the faults of people and uses them to create a story about finding humanity.