Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling team up as bad gumshoes in 1970s Los Angeles in Shane Black’s intermittently enjoyable comedy.
It’s as slick and funny as it is violent and nasty, as the odd couple pair up (after initially fighting each other) to smash a porn ring that is somehow tied to the Detroit car industry and a bid to scupper the catalytic converter.
Sure, there are elements of Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler here, but there’s a shifting tone throughout. Gosling is terrific when he plays it for laughs, Crowe not so much.
But they get away with it, while the film treads an awkward path of hapless comedy through child porn, murder and institutional corruption (embodied by a seemingly anaesthetised Kim Basinger).
The Nice Guys*** wants you to have fun but can’t escape its own tawdriness and lurid lapses, although you can’t deny there’s a whipsmart, Tarantino-ish knowingness to the film making that takes in Quentin’s Jackie Brown, a bit of Boogie Nights, some of The Big Lebowski, The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, as well as surely a little debt to the BBC series Life on Mars.
I did laugh, quite a lot, when Gosling was really going for it with his little screams and some impressive physical clowning on a toilet. But there’s a thuggery and cruelty to the violence and a glibness to the overall attitude that also leaves a nasty, pitiable aftertaste, like bad breath on a mostly fun drunk.