The Nice Guys was written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, and directed by Shane Black.
Black wrote Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, The Monster Squad (!), The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which he also directed) and Iron Man 3 (which again, he also directed). The Nice Guys appears to be Bagarozzi's first film credit.
The Nice Guys is typical of Black's previous "buddy" action comedies, in which two wildly disparate characters are forced to team up to solve a crime.
In fact, both Lethal Weapon and The Nice Guys take place in LA, and start out the exact same way— with a naked dead woman on top of a wrecked car!
Supposedly many elements of the plot were based on the life of Jay Joseph, a Marine Corp veteran who became a private investigator in South Carolina in the 1990s. As a detective, Joseph often found himself in humorous and dangerous situations.
Shane Black wrote some of Jospeh's more colorful exploits into Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, as well as The Nice Guys.
The Nice Guys was originally pitched as a TV series, but was retooled as a film after no network expressed interest.
This film has a very convoluted plot, so I'm going to do a lot of editing and condensing, else we'll be here all day.
In 1977 Los Angeles, porn star Misty Mountains dies in a car crash. Don't worry, this will become important later on.
We then meet down-on-his-luck private investigator Holland March (played by Ryan Gosling). March is a widower and lovable drunk, who likes to take baths fully clothed. Comedy Ahoy! He has a teenaged daughter named Holly, who disapproves of her father's profession and unscrupulous methods.
March is contacted by a Mrs. Glenn, the elderly aunt of Misty Mountains (I told you she'd become important later!). She insists she's seen her niece alive after her alleged death, and wants March to investigate. He believes Mrs. Glenn really saw a woman named Amelia, but reluctantly accepts the case.
March asks around town for Amelia, who doesn't want to be found. She hires Jackson Healy (played by Russell Crowe), a brutal enforcer, to intimidate March and force him to leave her alone. Healy goes to March's house and tells him to stay away from Amelia. When March goes for his gun, Healy breaks his arm. Hey, it's like they "meet cute," but in an action film!
That night Healy's attacked in his apartment by two thugs, listed in the credits as Older Guy and Blueface (no, really!). Naturally they're also looking for Amelia, and try to force Healy to tell them what he knows about her. Blueface opens a briefcase in Healy's apartment, which sprays him in the face with blue dye, hence his "name." Healy escapes in the confusion.
Healy then meets with March, and the two decide to team up to find Amelia before the thugs do. The two discover that Amelia was working with Misty Mountains on an experimental film, directed by a filmmaker named Dean. The film, called How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy was part porn, part scathing expose about smog in Los Angeles. They try to track down Dean, but discover he died in a mysterious house fire that also destroyed his film, which doesn't sound suspicious at all.
March and Healy learn that Dean's film was financed by Sid Shadduck, a notorious porn film producer. They crash a party at his mansion, and unknown to them, Holly stows away in the trunk of March's car. Healy sends her home in a cab, but she sneaks out and into the party. March gets so drunk he walks right past Amelia without recognizing her. He then falls off a balcony and rolls down a steep hill, where he lands next to the dead body of Sid Shadduck. Healy finds March with the body, and they decide to dispose of it before they're blamed for murder. They dump the corpse over a fence, where it lands in the middle of a wedding reception. Wakka wakka!
Meanwhile Holly investigates the guests, and finds Amelia. Older Guy and Blueface show up, and fight March and Healy. Healy beats down Older Guy, and Blueface escapes from March. Holly and Amelia are then cornered in the middle of a street by Blueface. Just as he's about to kill them, a van slams into him, causing serious injury. Amelia runs off into the night. As Blueface lays dying, he tells Healy that a hitman called "John Boy" is coming, and will kill him. Healy quietly finishes off Blueface by choking him.
March catches up and is reunited with Holly and Healy. Just then another limo pulls up. Inside is Judith Kuttner (played by Kim Basinger), the head of the Department Of Justice, and Amelia's mother.
Kuttner meets with March and Healy. She explains that the Vegas mob is trying to expand their porn business into LA, and Amelia became involved in an effort to lash out at her mother. She hires the two to find Amelia (which of course they're already doing).
The next morning March and Healy track Amelia to the Airport Hotel. A bartender tells them he say Amelia and John Boy head upstairs. They go up to John Boy's room, but when they see several dead or dying bodies lying in the hall, they wisely retreat. As they're getting in their car Amelia appears and tries to shoot them, but ends up knocking herself out.
They take Amelia back to March's house, where she tells them that her mother is really behind the murders. She says her mother is secretly working with a cabal of Detroit automakers, who are trying to suppress the development of the catalytic converter. The automakers (and Kuttner) want to make sure Dean's experimental film, which claims smog is caused by cars, is never shown to the public.
March and Healy get a call from Kuttner, who wants them to make a money drop. When they mention they have Amelia, she says she'll send over her family doctor. The two go to make the drop, but find out the money was fake and Kuttner's double-crossed them.
John Boy shows up at March's house, claiming to be a doctor, who' there for Amelia. Holly lets him in, and he immediately tries to kill Amelia. Just then March and Holland arrive, and there's another shootout. John Boy flees, and Amelia gets away yet again. As she runs down the street, she flags down a car for help. Unfortunately John Boy's at the wheel, and he shoots her dead. Well, that was unexpected!
March realizes that when the nearsighted Mrs. Glenn thought she saw her niece Misty Mountains, she was actually seeing the porno film she made (look, just go with it, OK?). That means there's another copy of How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy floating around out there, and Amelia was planning on showing it at an automotive convention that day.
March, Healy and Holly head for the convention and find the film in the projection room. Just then Holly is captured by Older Guy. He demands March hand over the film, or he'll kill her. March distracts Older Guy and shoots him, and the two fall off the roof of the convention center. Luckily March lands in the pool, while Older Guy splatters on the pavement. Healy is just about to kill John Boy, when Holly walks in. She says she'll never speak to him again if he kills the assassin, so he just knocks him out. The "experimental" film starts playing at the convention, embarrassing the heads of the auto companies.
The next day March and Healy meet with Judith Kuttner one last time. She has no remorse over he daughter Amelia's death. She says she knows she'll go to jail for colluding with the auto industry, but it doesn't matter, as someone even worse will take her place.
March and Healy have lunch at a restaurant. March predicts everyone will be driving electric cars within five years (which would be 1982). He tells Healy they have a new case, and shows them the Yellow Pages ad for their new detective agency, called "The Nice Guys."
• It would never have occurred to me to pair such complete opposites as Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in an action film, but they work surprisingly well together, and were actually pretty darned funny.
• Apparently Shane Black is a fan of the 1970s TV series The Rockford Files. Holland March has an ad in the Yellow Pages (ask your parents, kids!) that's almost identical to the one Jim Rockford had on the show. And like Rockford, March keeps a spare gun in the cookie jar in his kitchen.
• March and Healy attend a porn party at Sid Shadduck's mansion. At the party, one of the guests is dressed like Pinocchio, and quips, "It's not my nose that grows!"
Believe it or not, this was based on a real movie. In 1971 there was an actual porn film titled The Erotic Adventures Of Pinocchio, which featured the tag line "It's not his nose that grows!"
I know this because I can vividly remember seeing an ad for this film in our local newspaper. Yep, that's right! Porn theaters used to advertise in the paper, right next to ads for Jaws and Star Wars. The 70s were a very different time.
• At the party, a drunken March falls off the balcony and tumbles down a steep hill, hitting a tree at the bottom. He looks over and sees the dead body of Sid Shadduck leaning agains the tree. Healy trots down the hill, asking if March is OK. March tries to tell him about the grisly corpse, but can only manage to stammer out a series of unintelligible wheezing noises.
Apparently Ryan Gosling was doing his best Lou Costello impression here. His voiceless response is exactly the same as Costello's in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein!
• At still at the party, March runs into Older Guy, and the two battle. March's gun is knocked into a bubbling hot tub. The two men grapple for a few minutes before March manages to fish his gun out of the tub. Amazingly the sopping wet weapon still fires! I'm not an expert on firearms, but that doesn't seem right to me.
• It pains me to say it, but Kim Basinger is virtually unrecognizable in this film. In fact I didn't even realize she was in it until I saw the end credits!
• I like the retro 1970s look of the official poster quite a bit. There were a couple of other cool poster designs as well.
This one is reminiscent of the work of poster artist Drew Struzan, although it's most likely Photoshopped rather than painted.
This psychedelic one definitely captures the design aesthetic of the 1970s.
• The Nice Guys continues the current trend of the Character Poster. There are no less than nine different ones for this film.
I honestly don't get the point of these. Even the biggest cineplex isn't going to have room to put up nine goddamned posters just to advertise one movie. Maybe they're made for the collector market? Or for people who really, really like a particular film, and have to have every one of them? Although I honestly can't imagine even the most rabid fan of this film wanting all nine posters.
• The movie takes place in 1977, so you know what that means— Anachronisms Ahoy!
At the porn party, several songs are heard on the stereo that weren't released until after 1977. September was released in 1978, Boogie Wonderland and Escape (The Pina Coloda Song) were both released in 1979. And Get Down On It came out in 1982!
As March and Healy drive around the city, they pass billboards advertising Airport 77, Smokey And The Bandit and Jaws 2. Well, they got two out of three right. As you might expect, Airport 77 did indeed come out in 1977, as did Smokey And The Bandit. Unfortunately Jaws 2 didn't come out until 1978. Maybe it was a "Coming Next Summer" type of poster?
Holly has a poster of London Calling by The Clash. The album was released in 1979.
One of the cars on display at the auto show is a Cadillac Eldorado. Unfortunately those went out of production in 1976, a year before the film was set.
After bringing Amelia to his house, March tells Holly to call 911. The 911 system was first introduced in Alabama (of all places!!!) in 1968, but wasn't available in Los Angeles until October 1, 1984. Whoops! Holly's gonna be on that phone a long time!
The Nice Guys is a reasonably entertaining buddy action film, complete with the typical character interaction and convoluted plot. I wouldn't recommend dropping everything and rushing to the theater to catch it, but it's worth a look on home video. I give it a B-.