‘The Nice Guys’ – Film Review

Ryan Gosling excels as a feckless and cowardly private investigator in a buddy comedy full of wit and energy

Ryan Gosling has been in a dark place for a long time film-wise. Since 2011’s The Ides Of March he’s been mining dark dramas, stepping only briefly into comedy for a small role in last year’s The Big Short. Yes, his lightest role in five years was in a film about the global economic collapse that nearly bankrupted the entire world. You can see why he’d be keen to decompress.

Gosling lets it all go in The Nice Guys, blowing out a comedy performance of screaming, rubber-limbed glee. In leave-it-all-on-the-floor physical terms, it sort of brings to mind Johnny Depp in the first Pirates Of The Caribbean, before Captain Jack became schtick. It’s that committed.

In this ’70s-set new comedy thriller by writer-director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3), Gosling plays Holland March, a goofy private investigator who only takes cases that involve no actual investigation, mostly from confused, rich old ladies. Being an idiot, he one day takes the wrong case, probing the death of a porn actress, Misty Mountains. Holland’s half-hearted sleuthing puts him in the path of Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) – a fellow PI as rigorous and violent as March is feckless and cowardly – whose own investigation involving a missing girl seems enmeshed with March’s somehow. These two completely mismatched men team up to crack this one big mystery, and you can imagine how that goes.

While its Raymond Chandler-meets-Boogie-Nights story has all the touchstones of film noir – exploited starlets, corrupt cops, silent killers – the crime-solving is almost beside the point. The cracking of the case very often relies on fortuitous coincidence, the two men arriving in the right place at the right time or, in at least one instance, the vital clue literally falling on top of them. That’s all just grist for a buddy comedy of tireless wit and energy. Crowe happily takes the position of the gruff straight man, which still gives him the most entertaining role he’s had in years, and stands aside to let Gosling throw himself bodily into every comic scenario. Let your freak flag fly a while, Ryan. It suits you.