The Nice Guys – this is what’s called investigating with panache

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are THE NICE GUYS, an unlikely but ace team in Shane Black’s hilarious comedy.

What a pair! Terrific writer/director Shane Black has certainly given us one of the best pieces of casting this year, as Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play brilliantly off each other in his 1970s-set crime comedy THE NICE GUYS.

Having actually seen the movie on its UK cinema release at the beginning of June, it’s hard to admit that with summer holidays and work, the On-Demand / DVD / Blu-ray release has now beaten me to the publishing of my review. But the great news is that the film has very much stayed with me since its initial viewing. That’s because Black has riffed affectionately on noir movies, L.A. movies and buddy movies (either from the 70s or set in that time) – I’m talking about the likes of Chinatown, Boogie Nights and Freebie and the Bean – and created a movie that is tremendous fun with a Casablanca-like ‘the beginning of a beautiful friendship’ in the dream team pairing of Crowe and Gosling.

Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy and Ryan Gosling as Holland March in The Nice Guys

Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy and Ryan Gosling as Holland March

We’re in Los Angeles 1977, where the not terribly successful private investigator Holland March (a superbly shambolic and so on point Ryan Gosling) is tasked with looking into the possible suicide of a porn star. Jackson Healy (a beautifully gruff but sweet Russell Crowe) is a very effective muscle for hire given a job to find a missing girl which leads him to March. After an initial set-to where March comes off far worse than Healy, it takes March’s very savvy teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice – an absolute new star in the making) to bring the two of them together to work on the case. Because the case is far from simple.

Very soon our mismatched duo is inside a marvellously convoluted mystery with lethal bad guys and dubious other characters making their mission far from straightforward but superbly enjoyable for us. I can’t say I’ve seen all of the comedies on offer in 2016 but I can say that THE NICE GUYS is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year. That’s due to Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi’s incredibly witty script and his stars (two of my favourite actors) clearly having a wonderful time working together and on such snappy material.

L.A. in all its glitter and seediness is nicely evoked by Black and his production designer Richard Bridgland and his cinematographer the great Philippe Rousselot (Dangerous Liaisons, A River Runs Through It and La Reine Margot). And the soundtrack by David Buckley and John Ottman is, of course, to die for with some fabulous disco hits seamlessly interwoven into a funky, toe-tapping score.

Ryan and Russell with Daisy Tahan as Jessica and Angourie Rice as Holly in The Nice Guys - photo c/o The New York Times

Ryan and Russell with Daisy Tahan as Jessica and Angourie Rice as Holly

And once again, it’s Black’s skill in his casting that makes the film really rock. Ty Simpkins, so memorable as Harley in Iron Man Three is back in a cute little cameo at the movie’s start and it’s lovely seeing the 2 star-crossed lovers from Curtis Hanson’s masterpiece L.A. Confidential – Crowe and Oscar winner Kim Basinger – reunited here but not in quite the same circumstances. Basinger’s politician Judith Kuttner is no less beguiling than Lynn Bracken but potentially a lot more ambiguous.

Elsewhere we have a great mix of more familiar faces from Matt Bomer who’s smoothly impressive as John Boy, Lois Smith is a delightfully daffy Mrs Glenn who’s hired Gosling in the first place, Keith David is a moodily strong presence as always as a sharp-suited heavy and 70s/80s legend Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers himself!) even pops up. They’re alongside up and coming stars Margaret Qualley as the missing Amelia, Beau Knapp as an immensely imposing thug Blueface and in surely a nice nod to Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang star Val Kilmer, we see his son Jack Kilmer (recently in the stunning The Stanford Prison Experiment) make a splendid impression as the laid-back Chet.

It says something about the quality of Black and Bagarozzi’s writing that you laugh just as long and just as hard the second time around watching THE NICE GUYS as you did the first. But they also lend a note of real pathos in the arc of Gosling’s Holland March, as you see him travel from disenchanted to emboldened over the course of the story, that makes you smile just as much for its cleverness.

This is a real gem of a movie – see it.