Sure, nice guys finish last, but that doesn’t mean they’re not winners. Take Holland March and Jackson Healy (Ryan Gosling & Russell Crowe) for example, the Starsky and Hutch of Shane Black’s sublimely screwy and unashamedly sleazy slice of 70’s noir. In less than a week of knowing each other, they find themselves repetitively smacked & shot at by a faceless onslaught of ruthless killers; bones are broken in combat, backs are fractured in falls from tall buildings. And yet at the end they’re still smiling – even if it is through broken teeth – satisfied at the achievement of a job well done.

The pair are celebrating the closing of a case so mind-bogglingly convoluted, this writer could easily waste the entire review’s word count if he wanted to explain it with some semblance of accuracy. But in its broadest terms, the mystery revolves around the death of fading LA porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), and how it links to the disappearance of Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), daughter of Department of Justice agent Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger, sadly wasted in a part so small it’s barely worth mentioning).

This is something of a spiritual companion piece to Black’s brilliant ’05 thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; following the same formulaic structure, and even mirroring certain sequences – Holland & Jackson proving themselves to be as riotously incompetent as Harry Lockhart & Gay Perry were in the practise of body disposal. And yet despite some glaring similarities, The Nice Guys is such raucously shameless fun that it rarely registers as a problem.

Tracking over the Hollywood hills towards the city in his opening shot, with a soundtrack of groovy swing jazz and title cards illuminated in lustrous neon hues, Black welcomes us to LA in the late 70s; a smoggy landscape fuelled by sex, drugs, drink, loud music, and louder shirts. Consider it a cross between the world of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential.

Holland & Jackson don’t know each other at first, but it isn’t long before their individual searches for Amelia brings them together. The film thrives on their mismatched friendship, dropping any romantic distractions in order for our focus to rest entirely on their growing camaraderie. No emotionally baggy bromance here, only boisterous buddy joy; the sort of unruly popcorn flick where one of the lead characters can be a self-destructive alcoholic who keeps on comparing people to Hitler & no one gives a shit, and thrills come from seeing any number of baddies flung through plate glass windows.

From the first frame it’s clear that Black is having a blast from behind the camera, engineering a number of kinetic action sequences that are contrived with a gritty and authentic brutality, while witty wisecracks fly like bullets.

Central to it all though, are two tremendous performances from Ryan Gosling & Russell Crowe. The Nice Guys is fun throughout, but it’s at its best when indulging in Gosling’s versatility for physical comedy, or watching Crowe flex his cynical chops as the more gruff and aggressive Jackson – a thug for hire who’s been left so bitter by a recent divorce. Together with Black, they make for a winning combination.

Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice
Runtime: 116 mins
Country: UK, USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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