Before we get into this, let’s make it clear that this post will include spoilers for The Nice Guys. Now that is out of the way, let’s go. The Nice Guys reads like a list of Shane Black’s greatest hits. Mismatched buddy cops (although in this case it is a buddy PI and a buddy tough for hire), fast-paced dialogue, jabs at corporate America, plucky young children and an underlying darkness beneath the jokes. There’s even some Christmas. It also has a plot that at some points is completely nonsensical.
Which appears to be at least slightly by design. There is a mystery at the centre of this film that our buddies Jackson (Russell Crowe) and Holland (Ryan Gosling) unravel at the same time as us. However, even when this mystery is cleared – which in the simplest terms seems to be about how a porn film can help take down corporate America – it makes no sense. What makes this intriguing – it is hardly the first film to descend into gibberish – is I don’t care.
The closest comparison I can conjure up from recent times is Inherent Vice, a movie in which you could practically smell the pot wafting off the screen. While The Nice Guys never quite falls into that film’s surreal world there is a common bond. Much like with Inherent Vice there was a moment in The Nice Guys where I sat back and thought ‘wait, what is going on here?’ However, just a few seconds later I was able to dismiss that and enjoy the dream sequence involving a giant talking bee.
And yet losing track of plot to focus on style or laughs should be an instant killer for a film. Plots can be tough to follow, but if when they are laid out in front of you, they still make no sense, then you have a problem. I recently watched David Lynch’s Dune, which takes a ridiculously difficult book and tries to turn it into Star Wars. Even as someone who has read those books I was utterly baffled as to what was going on. It meant that no matter how stylish the film was or how many winged speedos Sting emerged in I couldn’t enjoy it and I probably never will.
So what is the difference, here? Well to put it simply, The Nice Guys is fun. I laughed the whole way through, and Gosling and Crowe have brilliant chemistry. Even the plucky young child character managed not to grate on the nerves. By branding this mismatched plot with witty dialogue and some almost silence cinema era slapstick (see guns being chucked through windows and Gosling falling down hills) Black makes sure that you forget the plot and just focus on the laughs. It meant that when The Nice Guys wanders off into the woods trying to find its way again you can just smile and forgive. This by no means suggests that plot is unimportant and quite frankly The Nice Guys would be ten times the film if its plot matched its comedy, but when sitting in front of it and enjoying its particular brand of humour, it’s hard to worry too much about whether it all makes sense.