*Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros. Entertainment
When it comes to actors, most of us generally differentiate between comedy actors and “serious” actors. We’d scoff at the notion of Adam Sandler in a period piece, just as seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in a Rogen-esque stoner comedy would make most of us recoil in disgust. However, The Nice Guysbenefits from a break in convention, taking two “serious” actors and placing them in the world of the absurd.
Neither Ryan Gosling nor Russell Crowe are known for cracking jokes, but that doesn’t stop director Shane Black from using the natural gifts of each actor to his advantage. Gosling’s charm translates well into his role as a bungling P. I. whose laugh is much more effective than his brain. Gosling’s airhead character is perfectly complemented by Crowe’s serious hitman, who thrives as the straight man in what is essentially a bastardized buddy cop movie.
After the mysterious death of a porn actress, Ryan Gosling is employed in a seemingly unrelated case wherein he is tasked with finding a girl named Amelia. Coincidentally, Russell Crowe has been employed by Amelia to rough up a “stalker,” leading
to a very confused encounter between the two protagonists. Eventually, the pair uncover a deeper conspiracy surrounding their mutual contact, and they are forced to work together to solve the mystery.
The intrigue of the film’s main plot line is fairly formulaic, and it proceeds to a predictable conclusion. Thankfully, Gosling and Crowe are so entertaining in their own rights that they save every scene with their mere presence. The constant back-and-forth between the pair injects energy into the film, and impressive acting from Angourie Rice, playing Gosling’s daughter, further develops the characters.
A primary disappointment of The Nice Guys is the lack of a convincing villain. While Matt Bomer is billed as the deadly assassin “John Boy,” he fails to live up to the hype, proving himself good for only an absurd barrage of bullets. The insidiousness of the conspiracy bleeds out through the subpar characters of the villains, leaving the resolution with an empty feeling (but with a misguided backdoor for a potential sequel).
Despite the problems evident with the mystery, Director Black still provides more depth than the typical comedy. While many comedies set up a weak plot that is meant only to set up jokes, Black writes a narrative that can stand on its own, despite its flaws, and then introduces the comedy to it through the ridiculousness of the protagonists. By relying on the talent and chemistry of his stars, Black doesn’t need to sacrifice any cinematic sophistication to get laughs.
At the end of the day, The Nice Guys thrives where it lets its stars strut their stuff. Ryan Gosling’s performance is incredible, comparable even to his showing in his other 2016 film,
La La Land, and neither star overshadows the other, instead balancing each other beautifully. While the tandem of Gosling and Crowe is an unlikely marriage for a comedy, they succeed in producing one of 2016’s most underappreciated films.