MadTV once did a sketch based on a premise for a new Russell Crowe TV show, in which Crowe and his boat would travel around the world and Crowe would beat up a different person on a different continent every week. In “The Nice Guys,” Russell gets to do a lot of punching, as a L.A. private investigator in the late seventies. He and co-star, Ryan Gosling, also get to fall out of things (balconies), into things (swimming pools) and onto things (speeding cars), as they navigate their way through this movie. It’s supposed (I think) to be tongue-in-cheek, like say, “Spy,” or “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” However, there are moments when it turns sentimental or serious, which makes an odd pairing with the raunchy language, stripper movie plot and slapstick.
So the year is 1977, meaning lines at the gas station rival those at Disneyland, hits like “Horse With No Name,” and “The Pina Colada,” song are on the jukebox, and everyone is wearing funky clothes, hairdos and facial hair. Smog alerts caution the inhabitants of L.A. to avoid going outside until 6 p.m., but Russell and Ryan are busy earning a living, even if somewhat ineptly (during one undercover investigation, Ryan almost bleeds to death). Russell is divorced, while Ryan is tragically widowed with a precocious teen daughter (Anjourie Rice). Both seek refuge in drinking, smoking and cynicism, although of course, things are about to change. When Russell is hired by a young woman (Margaret Qualley) to discourage a stalker, he winds up crossing paths with Ryan and eventually, they team up because they realize their cases have things in common. When Amelia disappears, the two and the precocious Anjourie, head out in search of her. Meanwhile, the mother of a character (Murielle Tello) we meet briefly at the movie’s start, also contacts the two detectives, which leads to a subplot about the auto industry – which eventually coincides with one about a supposedly dead porn star and the movie she was recently making. When everyone’s agenda starts intersecting, Russell and Ryan must try to secure justice – even though no one is quite sure what that would ultimately entail.
“The Nice Guys,” is a fast-paced action movie/buddy comedy which doesn’t lag once from its absurd beginning to its amusing end, which leaves room open (intentionally or not) for a sequel. The dialogue is generally witty, and there’s a scene straight out of a Monty Python movie involving a protest group of young people demonstrating against poor air quality. Eventually, all the pieces of the mystery fit together, and the bad guy gets what he deserves. Well, more or less. And the two leads emerge battered, but intact, ready for more high jinks.