In a time when so many comedies play dirty, The Nice Guys arrives like a breath of fresh air. Amid countless remakes like Vacation and sequels like Neighbors 2, which doggedly push for crude atmospheres, this film creates a world that's pure and naturally absurd.
Set in the late '70s, the film opens with porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) crashing to her death in the steep hills of Los Angeles. Around the same time, a teenage girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) goes missing. Unfortunately, the world's worst detective, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), is on the case. Amelia hires private enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to keep March off her tail, but the guys end up joining forces when they discover a connection between her, the city's porn industry and corruption in the office of the District Attorney (Kim Basinger), who also happens to be Amelia's mother.
The fun of the film lies in watching these guys literally stumble upon one clue after another. March trips down hills, falls off balconies and lands on dead bodies. Gosling delivers the year's best performance of physical comedy — the kind that leaves you gasping for air. Crowe is equally effective as the straight man, grounding the film in a reality that hilariously contrasts with Gosling's cartoonish slapstick. You can tell that these largely "serious" actors are having a blast, taking a break from brooding and bouncing off of each other like kids in a sandbox.RELATED: Ed reviews Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love
The men's personalities amusingly clash with the film's setting. Like Walter and the Dude in The Big Lebowski, Healy and March are relatively down-to-earth guys thrust into an outlandish world of extremes and excess. Fortunately, the film doesn't make a big fuss about this obscene environment. While so many comedies lean on crude and sexual humor as a crutch, The Nice Guys allows its seedy material to subtly unfold in the background. That's because it's co-written and directed by Shane Black, whose comedies are smart and confident enough to avoid relying too heavily on lowbrow humor.
Like Lethal Weapon, which Black also wrote, The Nice Guys emerges as an instant classic. It pulls viewers into a wild world, knocks the wind out of us and brings us back to warmly familiar reality through a couple of tough yet tender characters. What more could you want from a trip to the movies?