Lee wastes four block paragraphs not talking about how perfect Ryan Gosling is in this review for “The Nice Guys”.
Narrative is not a natural fit for comedy, but it is a rewarding one. Most jokes exist in a bubble of their own; you get a laugh, you move on with your life now probably no more or less informed but a little happier overall. A comedy movie does not simply demand one joke work well with another joke; it demands that twenty, or thirty, or fifty jokes work seamlessly together back-to-back. It’s a monumental task: when was the last time you told thirty jokes in a row and kept the listener interested? (If your answer does not involve a very young child, you’re lying to yourself.)
Add multiple characters, each with their own sense of humour, and a plot to balance from start to finish and suddenly it becomes pretty reasonable that most modern comedies end up feeling much the same as each other. So when a movie incorporates not just good jokes but jokes in varied forms and styles that always keep you guessing, with characters who actually share an unconventional relationship dynamic, in a story that’s both ugly in setting and surprisingly poignant not to mention well-meaning and spirited; you begin to appreciate the craft a little.
“The Nice Guys” balances so many spinning plates at one time, and yet never seems content to call it a day early and rest on its laurels. Two incredibly likeable leads that also happen to be delusional idiot savants, each with baggage that informs but doesn’t weigh the film down and a working relationship that isn’t based purely on typical male one-upsmanship. A quirky, cutesy kid partner who doesn’t exist simply to ruin all the fun times but who actually gets knee-deep in the action while also acting as a moral compass rather than collateral damage. Villains, multiple, all with memorable moments and quirks but not so many as to make the movie a pastiche or overly comic. A jarring mismatch of tones both murky dark and wacky bright that somehow perfectly meet in the middle to offer some off-grey humour for the whole family. All this and a plot with some genuine twists and turns that somehow manages to introduce stakes into what is essentially the detective version of “Three Men and a Baby”, coupled with an ending so open to interpretation it borders on arthouse.
Shane Black’s direction even turns teeth-clenching action into payoff comedy. Nothing is wasted; everything included has a purpose, except the times when it doesn’t because, well, that’s the point. The narrative and the action expertly compliments and contrasts the humour at all the right moments, rewarding its audience with bigger laughs and also more meaningful character touches that make you wish you could spend more time with everyone involved. And if any joke doesn’t grab you quite as it should, a fast pace should get you back behind the wheel in no time.
It’s all very smartly done, and might result in tonal whiplash: not for me. I loved these characters, all of whom were perfectly performed by their actors; especially Gosling. He can throw me for an emotional loop any day.