Everyone loves a comeback. Indeed, our obsession with seeing actors reinvent themselves has lead to the coining of portmanteaus like the McConaissance (for Matthew McConaughey) and the Reesurgence (for Reese Witherspoon). From the looks of Ryan Gosling's recent work, we may need to come up with another such term, as the actor has returned from a brief hiatus seemingly reinvigorated. Following from his brilliant turn in "The Big Short", the popular heartthrob shines in another comedic role in Shane Black's entertaining crime caper "The Nice Guys".
Set in 1970s Los Angeles, "The Nice Guys" teams up Ryan Gosling (as Holland March) and Russell Crowe (as Jackson Healy) as a private eye and enforcer hired to solve the interconnected case of Misty Mountains - a porn star who died in a fatal car crash - and Amelia - a young hippie girl who goes missing. On the surface, their task seems like a routine investigation involving small-scale local crime. But as they delve deeper into this underworld of the porn industry and the mob, the pair of misfits start to realize that they may be in way over head.
What follows is a hilarious romp through the city, as March and Healy - as well as March's streetsmart daughter Holly - embark on a wild misadventure. Despite the noir premise, Black keeps the tone light, often favoring dumb luck over shrewd crime-solving. And the comedy benefits from the shenanigans of an impressive ensemble, notably reuniting Crowe and Kim Basinger (who plays a high ranking government official) for a mini "L.A. Confidential" reunion.
To be honest though, the obvious linkage does the film no favours, as it lacks the distinctive style and atmosphere that made that 90s classic so great. And although it shares a similar tone, time setting and counterculture vs "The Man" theme, it doesn't hold a candle to the intricate storytelling of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice". Of course, the film deserves to be judged on its own terms. But although Black's screenplay is an original, it feels so standard issue that it begs comparisons.
Still, there's some strong filmmaking on display here. The editing is brisk, maintaining the high energy of the characters and the plot. And much of that strong editing is in service of some brilliant visual humor, seamlessly connecting the outrageous comic set-pieces.
But most of all, the film feels like an audition for Ryan Gosling's heretofore underused skills as a comedic actor. And he absolutely nailed it. Rarely has he appeared so relaxed and effortless on screen, willing to be self-deprecating with both his voice and body. It's certainly a drastic change from the brooding "Only God Forgives" role which preceded his break from acting. Indeed, "The Nice Guys" may not be the most memorable neo-noir buddy comedy, but I'm sure we'll remember its stellar Ryan Gosling performance for some time to come.