The buddy movie is back, thanks to director Shane Black.
His return to the genre that made him is a ribald re-invigoration of archetypes thought long dead, at least in terms of cinematic viability. In the wake of Rush Hour in the late 90’s and early aughts, Hollywood did what Hollywood does: they took something that worked the first time, even the second time, and ran it into the ground. Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour copycats filled the proverbial airwaves and, for a while, killed their mid-budget golden goose. A stray Other Guys here or Ride Along there notwithstanding, both pure comedy bordering on winking satire, the buddy cop genre was dead.
Black created it, and so he has revived it with The Nice Guys, a twisty funny detective yarn rife with R-rated spunk and disco-swinging, porn star-flinging pizzazz. It’s the 1970’s, and it is glorious. The sublime pairing of Russell Crowe as a tough guy for-hire and Ryan Gosling as a bumbling private eye proves a velvety match made in movie heaven, as Crowe proves he can be funny and Gosling confirms he’s as indelible a comedian as he is a dramatic performer.
Nearly stealing the entire picture right out from under them is Angourie Rice as Gosling’s daughter, a smart little tween who may be a better detective than her oft-drunk dad. Through her own sneakiness or sheepish happenstance, she ends up tagging along on their inappropriate adventure more than once. Surprisingly capable of holding her own amid the seediness of L.A’s back alleys and burgeoning porn industry, she’s a perfectly innocent but no less intelligent third wheel, the Joe Pesci to their Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
These fools looking after her are bad men on the outside but good men on the inside, and they’re caught in the middle of one convoluted missing persons case that somehow involves a controversial, “experimental” film i.e. a nudie flick, Kim Basinger, and the Big Three. That is, Detroit’s big three automakers. Pollution was the hip new thing to protest in 1977, and the image of former hippies draped across the front steps of some important government building, covered with doodled signs and dank gas masks, is one of many amusing sights and irreverent nods to the era.
The Nice Guys is a return to form for a genre once deemed banal and bygone.