|Image courtesy of Warner Bros.|
Black's film follows two characters who - much like that boy - attempt to do what they believe is the right thing, although they are far from perfect. Russell Crowe's Jackson Healy is a hulking enforcer who gets paid to send messages via punches to the face and broken bones, while Ryan Gosling's Holland March is an alcoholic, widower detective with a young daughter named Holly (Angourie Rice) who is the only person that inspires him to be a better person.
Jackson and Holland first meet when the former arrives at the home of the latter to tell him to stop tailing a client before proceeding to fracture his arm. Shortly afterward, they find themselves paired up in a mystery to find a missing woman who may have had ties to Misty Mountains and was involved in a porno film with an environmental message that some shadowy characters are attempting to prevent seeing the light of day. They are hired by Kim Basinger, playing a bigwig at the Department of Justice, whose daughter is the missing girl.
Story-wise, "The Nice Guys" follows in the tradition of conspiratorial L.A. noir such as "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential," but it's more of a comedy than a thriller. And there are plenty of laughs to be had, from an early flashback sequence in which Healy finds out that his wife has been cheating on him to March's bumbling antics, especially one involving a balcony and the detective play-acting with a woman at a party that he has been shot. Another amusing ongoing gag is that Holly is much smarter and stealthier than both her father and the lunkhead Healy.
But while Black's film is mostly fun and often enough funny, it's also a little lightweight. Its 1970s background merely provides an excuse for some disco music and Kiss on the soundtrack as well as era-appropriate clothing, while a conspiracy involving Detroit auto makers is never fully fleshed out and a conversation between Basinger and the two detectives on that matter near the end of the picture feels as if it's too little, too late. Some other questionable sequences include one in which March dreams of a large insect in the backseat of his car (don't ask) and another during which a foul mouthed young boy talks to the private eyes outside a burnt-down house.
But all in all, "The Nice Guys" is a fun movie. Gosling shows some definite possibility as a comedic leading man, while Crowe's straight man even gets a few laughs. And even if the picture ends in the type of shootout you'd expect from Black - who is responsible for the "Lethal Weapon" screenplay as well as "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" - the film also works well enough as an action movie. Even if it occasionally feels rambling or cluttered, it's a better-than-average summer movie that is engrossing and good for at least a few laughs.