Set in 1970s Los Angeles, down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) must work together to solve the case of a missing girl and the seemingly unrelated death of a porn star. During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power.
Shane Black's 'The Nice Guys' is a treat. They don't make comedies like this much nowadays. That might sound like a grumpy old man thing to say, but it's true. Black's attention to setting up jokes and their ultimate payoffs are delightful surprises in a time when most comedies seem to throw jokes at a wall to see what sticks.
Like the director's earlier film, 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' 'The Nice Guys' throws together a bumbling odd couple and lets them take the lead. It's almost as if Black is orchestrating his own anthology, similar to Edgar Wright's Corenetto Trilogy, about hilarious private eyes.
For those who disliked 'Inherent Vice,' or thought that it was too slow, 'The Nice Guys' offers up the same kind of quirky private eye comedy, but this one moves along at a brisk pace. That's not saying you can't love both, but 'The Nice Guys' probably has broader appeal.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is an enforcer. A hired thug – but a thug with a good heart – who goes around beating up men who he's hired to beat up. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is the "world's worst detective," according to his precocious 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). Holland's the kind of guy who would take money from a widow with dementia who hires him to find her missing (dead) husband. But, like Healy, March has a good heart too. A good, alcoholic heart.
The two of them become embroiled in a case about a porn star's death that just gets weirder and weirder as the scenes fly by. The story is half of the movie's fun. The more absurd it gets, the more the comedy builds. And believe me, the plot becomes quite bizarre.
The script, which was penned by Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi, is a witty tap dance of verbal barbs. There are some great lines in here. For example, March is a terrible father. That much is awfully apparent. He doesn't seem worried about what his daughter does or where she is, but she has the habit of saying, "…and stuff," at the end of her sentences. This is something he feels the need to correct her on. "Dad, there are whores here, and stuff." "Don't say 'and stuff,' honey. Just say, 'There are whores here.'"
The acting from Crowe and Gosling sells the stellar script. Gosling's raw energy is the kinetic heart of the film. His physical comedy provides some of the most satisfying belly laughs I've had this year. The scene where Gosling is simultaneously trying to hold a bathroom stall door open, while holding a gun, while trying to pull up his pants, while holding a magazine over his junk, well, that's comedic gold right there. It reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio's Quaaludes scene in 'The Wolf of Wall Street.' Sure, it wasn't as involved as that scene was, but it's equally memorable. And the key here is that Black allows the joke to fully realize itself. He doesn't unnecessarily cut away. He stays on the scene and provides ample time for Gosling to keep going. That's what good directors do.
In a summer that felt pretty dismal overall (except August, thank you August!) 'The Nice Guys' was a welcome change up from the usual tentpole fare. It's also one of the funniest movies of the year, so you're not going to want to miss it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a two-disc set that comes with one 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD copy. A Digital Copy code is included too. They come packed in a standard keepcase with two disc hubs. A slipcover is provided.
Warner Bros. provides a crisp, clear 1080p presentation that never wavers in quality. Whether the image is bathed in shadows or awash with Los Angeles sun, it never appears to have any problems whatsoever.
I found that the most impressive aspect of this presentation was its night scenes, of which there are many. When the lights are low detail is never lost. Shadows are strong and resolute. Crushing is never an issue. Clarity is present throughout darker scenes, providing inky blacks and flawless gradients. When the sun is up, detail is just as superb.
It may not have the outward panache of some big Hollywood blockbusters with huge special effects budgets. That doesn't matter though, because this image is demo-worthy. There are no anomalies to speak of. Nothing at all that detracts from the viewing pleasure. I see no reason to give it less than stellar marks.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a force, especially considering that this is a talky comedy. There are some great action scenes that take full advantage of the wide sound field. It's surprising how engrossing some of the sound becomes.
Yes, most of the movie's sound is focused up front. The dialogue is always clear. Even when Gosling mumbles and Crowe grumbles, you can hear every word. What's really neat is that the few action set pieces actually take full advantage of the surround sound. Bullets whiz by, sounding like they are traversing the room. Panning effects, like a car careening through a house, are presented with chaotic precision. These intensely fun action scenes also provide a heavy helping of LFE. Car engines revving, shotgun blasts, and even the movie's soundtrack all provide some great bass.
Like the video I don't find anything wrong with the audio presentation. Frankly, it's an example to all talk-heavy films that you don't have to simply surrender yourself to a front-centric sound mix. There are inventive ways to use all the channels to tell a great comedy.
Always Bet on Black (HD, 5 min.) – A self-serving promo featurette where everyone in the movie gushes about director Shane Black. I mean, I think he's a talented filmmaker, but yeah, this piece was a little much.
Worst. Detectives. Ever. Making 'The Nice Guys' (HD, 6 min.) – Not much in the way of a making-of documentary. You can't fit a lot of information in six minutes. It's promotional fluff and not much more.
'The Nice Guys' is a killer comedy that kept be laughing from start to finish. It's a perfect combination of a clever script and veteran actors who can effortlessly pull off the material. Just a delight all the way around. The video and audio presentations are top-notch. Too bad the special features are extremely lacking. Still, this release is highly recommended.