The US president who fought a half-hearted battle for the environment and a full-throated one on porn gets himself a film that tries to combine all these three elements, then mixes in a bit of mystery, a lot of blood, and, most improbably, a 13-year-old. The result is a failed attempt at whimsy, that ends up being too clever by half.
The president in question is Richard Nixon, who gets referenced amply in two scenes of dying in The Nice Guys (dated just after his presidency). His Clean Air Act, and consequent pas de deux with the big automobile manufacturers, is implied. That the environmental message against the Detroit Big 3 comes spliced in a porn film is another swipe at the unfortunate Nixon, who spent his post-Watergate days breathing down Deep Throat the film. However, that too is left implied, as Shane Black, the director-screenwriter, focuses on stringing together clever cross-references and inside jokes than an actually funny film.
Nixon isn’t the only thing going for The Nice Guys either, though he does nicely enough. Both Crowe as the washed-up, rough-edged bouncer-on-hire Healy, and Gosling as the cynical, heavy-drinking private investigator March are good and cleverly cast. However, Black, who set off the Lethan Weapon franchise as its screenwriter, doesn’t give them a chance to mesh together as a good buddy film requires.
The unlikely one who keeps coming in the middle is March’s daughter (Rice), who apart from being put in harm’s way by way of shootouts and beatings etc also gets dragged to a party thrown by a porn film producer. And she isn’t even the only child whom the film takes pleasure in having almost killed.
The storyline involves a hunt for a girl called Amelia (Qualley), who is part of a protest group for the environment but also mixed in with filmmakers who have close connections to the porn industry. During the course of the search for Amelia, for which Healy and March also get hired, a lot of people die, including a porn star called Misty Mountain, who apparently (again, apparently) bore a resemblance to Amelia.
When Black lets his jokes play out without being too smart, some are genuinely funny, including a protest by Amelia’s group where everyone is pretending to be dead due to the bad air. Or in the toilet where March is trying to play tough, with his pants down, against Healy, who earlier left him with a broken arm. Or when Amelia struggles to put together a coherent sentence to explain her activist stand.
But The Nice Guys just has to be nicer.
Directed by Shane Black
Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley