Since I work at a multiplex, I could conceivably see every widely released movie that comes out for free, but that perk doesn't mean so much to me since I'm interested in a relatively small percentage of the films we get. And of those, a handful still manage to slip through my fingers if they only manage to stick around for a week or two. This is why I caught Triple 9 and Popstar on home video earlier this year and have had to do the same for The Nice Guys, which skipped town before I was able to get around to it back in late spring.
The third feature for screenwriter-turned-director Shane Black, co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi, The Nice Guys takes place in the Los Angeles of 1977 and plays like an arch variant on that decade's Chinatown, only this time there are two Jake Gitteses and the first time they meet one of them fractures the other one's wrist. The one who does the fracturing is "real-life tough guy" Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a bruiser for hire who gets paid to beat people up, and the one who spends the rest of the film with his forearm in a cast is Holland March (Ryan Gosling), an alcoholic private investigator and widower whose 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) has more of her shit together than he does. That explains why she's so useful when she tags along for part of their joint investigation -- once it becomes clear they need to team up to get to the bottom of the convoluted case they've inadvertently become embroiled in, that is.
Black employs all kinds of signifiers to make his throwback L.A. as era- and place-specific as possible -- a Tower Records nestled beneath billboards for Airport '77 and Jaws 2; Robert Klein, Richard Lewis, Tim Allen, and Elaine Boosler listed on the marquee for The Comedy Store; a "die-in" protesting the city's smog problem. He also employs a host of excellent character actors -- some familiar faces, other less so -- to fill out the supporting cast. It's always a pleasure to see Keith David pop up in a movie (here he's one half of a competing pair of thugs), and Black even stages a mini-L.A. Confidential reunion by casting Kim Basinger as the mother of the mixed-up political activist they're all trying to run down. The one who makes the biggest impression, though, is Matt Bomer as a hired killer nicknamed John Boy (after the character on The Waltons) whose reputation precedes him in a big way. To say our (anti-)heroes have the chips stacked against them would be an understatement.