The Nice Guys is a sexy detective story with a slapstick twist

By Alynda Wheat
Updated December 01, 2020 10:15 PM
Credit: Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros.

Hardboiled ’70s detective stories tend to have style coming out of their ears. The tough-guy ambience and lingo are part of the charm. The violence, well, that’s just there to get the job done. But you know what they usually lack? Slapstick.

Now, I’m not saying every gumshoe yarn needs physical comedy, but The Nice Guys makes joyous use of the stuff.

In the film, Russell Crowe stars as Jackson Healy, a paid enforcer who gets caught up in the case of a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a private investigator who’s also marginally on the case. Basically, he’s just taking some poor old lady’s money, while he makes a show of doing his job. It takes a little arm-twisting – well, more like an actual fracture – but soon Healy and March are partnered up.

But The Nice Guys is not a twosome. What makes it even fizzier and funnier is the presence of March’s 13-year-old, Holly (Angourie Rice), who thinks her dad is “the world’s worst detective.” That might be overstating things a tad, but give Holly credit: She’s a more intrepid investigator than her old man – and miles more ethical than either Healy or March.

[IMAGE “1” “” “std” ]
This is the part where I have to issue an official warning that the central mystery in The Nice Guys does not make a lick of sense. There’s a porn angle; some political stuff; and a something or other about Detroit carmakers – and even if you follow all the threads, you’ll still roll your eyes at how it’s all tied together.

But that’s not the point! You don’t go to The Nice Guys for logic, you go for the party.

Gosling and Crowe look like they’re having a grand old time flying through windows and over balconies. (Gosling can make true comedy out of standing up from a toilet seat.) Their snappy patter is often hilarious, and they have real chemistry, particularly when Rice gets in on the action, as she frequently does. Oh, and please, do not ask how a teenaged girl has so much time to investigate murder and mayhem in seedy 1970s Los Angeles. Just be glad she’s there. She’s the most professional one in the crew.

So much of The Nice Guys works so well, in fact, that a sequel or two would actually be welcome. Provided the central mysteries get better, I’m game for seeing Gosling and Crowe back in wide lapels and plaid trying to solve murders as only they can.

Well, them and Holly. (Mainly Holly.)