‘The Nice Guys’ Finish Last

(L-r) Ryan Gosling as Holland March and Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy in 'The Nice Guys.' Photo: Daniel McFadden, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L-r) Ryan Gosling as Holland March and Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy in ‘The Nice Guys.’ Photo: Daniel McFadden, a Warner Brothers Pictures release.

Because I had enjoyed the trailer (which, I know, is silly way to select a movie) I was looking forward to seeing The Nice Guys, a new action comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. But as the movie starting unspooling I suddenly found myself  with a nagging question and I was wondering if I’d be able to figure it out.

The film concerns a washed-up, but still good-at-his job, “fixer” played by Crowe. Gosling is an amoral private investigator who may not be the brightest bulb in the candelabra, but his doggedness when tracking down a lead serves him well.

These two join forces to locate a young woman named Amelia. She’s from a very well-to-do family and has recently appeared in a porno movie. The big trouble, however, is that everyone associated with the flick (co-star, director, producer) has ended up dying in a very gruesome manner. Amelia’s mother, a muckety-muck with the Department of Justice, wants Gosling and Crowe to find Amelia before something awful happens to her as well.

So there’s your basic premise. This thing I didn’t understand is why writers Shane Black (who also directed) and Anthony Bagarozzi set their movie in 1977—nothing in the film’s plot is dependent on an event happening back then. And it’s not like the 1970’s are a period remembered for their beauty, style or culture. (Believe me, I lived through it … there was absolutely nothing worth getting nostalgic about.) Setting a film in a particular period can greatly balloon the budget and I couldn’t figure out why the creators had willingly increased their costs.

It’s true there are certain tangles in the investigation taking place in The Nice Guys which would vanish if anyone had a smart phone. But I think with a little jiggering the writers could have set the movie in the present day and still have it work—whatever else there is to say about this movie, I don’t think anyone is ever going to accuse Black and Bagarozzi of surpassing Agatha Christie when it comes to the tight intricacies of mystery plotting. So a little tinkering wouldn’t have done any damage.

But here we are, stuck in 1977, and the reason as to why kept eluding me.

And then, finally, I figured it out!

Black and Bagarozzi have set their movie in the 70’s because that’s the last time it was acceptable to treat women with this much contempt and hate.

Good Lord I felt like I needed a Silkwood scrub after this movie! Every woman in The Nice Guys is a prostitute, a porn actress or an evil harridan (with some lucky gals achieving all three!) … and almost all of them end up being the victims of violence.

You couldn’t set this movie in the present day because any man who treated a woman like this would be incarcerated. They’ve set it in the porn industry merely as an excuse to photograph women without their clothes (“ooh, I can see her boobies!”) and the film’s  “adult” parties are the sort of things overheated teenage boys back in the 70’s imagined Hugh Hefner hosted.

What I found particularly repellent is that every woman in this movie is, in some way, a burden to the men. All of them do extraordinarily stupid things for the sole purpose of needing to be rescued. And the (very) small number of women who don’t need help from a man, turn out to be raging shrews.

Crowe and Gosling Are a Good Team

As for the rest of it: Gosling and Crowe have an easy-going chemistry between them that lightens a lot of the movie and Gosling would, I think, be especially funny if he ever got a chance to do a smart, sophisticated comedy … instead of this little pile of nasty.

As a director, Black favors a washed-out look for the film, like Polaroids from the time, which is funny, and the costume and set people have outdone themselves; it certainly looks like the 70’s. As mentioned above the film’s plot is a bit of mess—both overly convoluted and underdeveloped at the same time. Which may be all for the best because when you finally figure out what the hell’s happening, you just want to get out of theater as quickly as possible.

I do hate to go on and on about it, but it’s been years since I’ve seen a movie this aggressively mean and spiteful. I don’t know the personal lives of either Black or Bagarozzi so I could be entirely wrong (and apologies if I am) but The Nice Guys feels like it was written by a couple of men who’ve just mailed off their alimony checks.

Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.