The Nice Guys’ logic annoys the shit out of me, and I just can’t enjoy the movie because of it. I honestly think going to a public school opened my eyes to this flaw (assuming private schools are somewhat nicer). So if you were well behaved at school, you’re probably going to understand perfectly where I’m going with this. Nevertheless, and without further ado, lets begin to deconstruct The Nice Guys.
Shane Black films tend to have a luck/chance reward scheme built into them, The Nice Guys does, Lethal Weapon does and Iron Man 3 kinda does as well as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Take Lethal Weapon for example, Riggs and Murtagh head to investigate a house across the street and suddenly it explodes, we think ah that was lucky, and because they got there through detective work, you’re absolutely gutted when it all goes up in a spectacular explosion, but nevertheless we’re just glad they survived. Iron Man 3 has Tony fall out of the sky and into the middle of nowhere to find a kid who happens to be a tech savvy mini Stark, and we react with “oh damn it, but yay help, how fortunate”. Every time something negative happens to a character they’re also met with something positive because then they are rewarded for doing something ‘good’ in the first place. This is a healthy reward system.
The Nice Guys has the hard-faced and hard working Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) paired with hapless halfwit Holland March (Ryan Gosling). The plot follows the conventional route that Black has been recycling for years now, two opposites are forced to work together to return normalcy in their lives in a plot that’s bigger than the characters and along the way they “learn” “things”. Cute and done before, but I was on board because that’s pretty much what the film was selling. However, Black got lazy with this because he simplistically applied this luck/chance reward scheme in all the wrong places. And this really soured my apples.
Lethal Weapon rewards Riggs (Mel Gibson) whenever he pulls himself together to get shit done, because at heart he’s a broken wreck but he’s dedicated to the job. However, he can’t actually handle the job because he’s so broken, and thus the film throws him a bone to keep him from sinking too deep. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang throws the narrator a similar bone when he stumbles into a casting session for a movie that saves him from the cops. They were chasing him for stealing a Christmas present for his niece: He does something bad, but for a good(ish) reason and the film offers him the chance to make something of himself.
The Nice Guys has Holland March, who drinks and loathes in his own sorrows, still mourning the death of his wife (similar to Riggs). In comes Healy who knocks him about a bit and then later they must join forces. After about 40 minutes the film offers the first lucky reward in the form of Holland seeing a girl and finding a dead body after stumbling off the balcony. Left alone at this, I could almost justify this as a happy accident – had he not got shitfaced previously. I can ignore Holland’s rejectionist attitude towards private investigator work because at least he’s somewhat dedicated to getting paid and we’re still getting an introduction into his perspective on the job. But when our lead characters are a duo, performing the same task simultaneously, I can’t help but instantly compare the two. So when Holland is getting rat arsed instead of remaining dedicated to the job, and Healy is putting in some actual fucking effort, it seems unfair that the film would then reward Holland for doing something counterproductive to the investigation when Healy remains entirely professional. What does Healy get for his efforts? Only toward the end do his findings become relevant. So while Holland is off chasing his daughters kidnappers, Healy must defend himself, and after kicking twelve shades out of the old guy, he then runs down to help the girls as well, passing a drunken Holland in the crashed car that he failed to use properly. Right now, all the fortune should be on Healy’s side because if anyone in this movie deserves it, it’s him! But this is where fortune favours Holland, again. A hit-and-run driver saves the girls (Holly and Amelia), meaning that Healy arrives at the scene first and discovers that a hitman is now hunting Holland, Holly and himself. And granted he does get to murder the bad guy, which I’m sure was satisfying as hell, but that is still some fucked up shit to discover anyway you look at it. Then Holland just rocks up on the scene and his daughter comes running into his arms. This is after doing absolutely bugger all to legitimately help anyone. Holland gives nothing of real substance, yet everything falls in his lap.
This is the pattern from here on out.
Gosling is the comic relief character, and Crowe is the straight guy. These aren’t particularly new characters, in fact they’re archetypal, but in Black’s efforts to add complexity to Gosling’s somewhat superficial character-type he mistakenly uses the comic relief as a plot device in an effort to keep it relevant. What makes Riggs so interesting is how his torment comes from everything but the job (and yet the job still torments him). What’s more interesting is how the whole plot of the movie is what Riggs does in his job, so his reason to live is also every plot point in the movie, and so the movie itself is all that keeps Riggs from committing suicide. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Harry Lockhart’s (RD Jr.) whole method for surviving is the plot itself, being an actor in Hollywood is the only reason he’s free from prison, and solving the plot this unexpected twist has tangled him in is now life or death. The film itself has thrown him into this situation and therefore it’s justified to see him get a lucky break every once in a while because of that. Holland does nothing to effect anything in the movie. He acts hurt and though he’s genuinely wounded, he simply refuses to make any meaningful attempt to cause a significant change in the story. This makes it entirely unjustified that the film constantly has Healy making all the sacrifices and giving all the effort for Holland to reap the fortunes of luck.
I call it the naughty schoolboy effect. Being in public school means that you meet plenty of dickheads in class. They’re lazy, disruptive, loudmouthed and I’ll say it again, they’re lazy, lazy, lazy. To quote the film “[they] have no follow through”. And somehow the system has you paired up because you’re the good kid who gets the work done. The idea is that hopefully you’ll teach the kid something by just doing your work near him (and by proxy, his work too). This solution has never worked. The kid is still a little shit no matter what, and now you’re forced to cope with it, therefore hindering your work instead of improving his; then one day the kid puts forward the smallest bit of effort and out rolls twelve fucking Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, New Years gifts and all the happy 18th, 21st, 50th and 100th birthday cakes, the kid gets uproarious applause. “Well done kiddo, you cured cancer”. And sure, this might make sense to the kid and teacher who are considering this as a singular detached event, but this whole time you’ve been working hard without a problem and soon the question arises; Where is Healy’s reward?
It’s an aggravating situation to be in, because you can’t deny that it’s an accomplishment that the lazy drip did something, but it’s also a slap in the face to every consistently hard working kid out there. When they see more reward given to those who contribute less than the ones with true dedication, it’s disheartening. The ending of The Nice Guys punctuates this perfectly. After a series of fortunate occurrences, and Holland finally putting some effort in at the end, the final moments of the film has Healy (after all his hard work) sitting at the bar drinking and smoking a cigar, drunk and depressed, back in his slump while Holland walks around peppy, kissing his daughter on the head, setting up ads, fully recovered and sober.
I know this is a black comedy, but fuck me, it didn’t have to get that black! I’m happy for Holland, but the film has this persistent desire to kick Healy while he’s down. Perhaps if they’d’ve been a little fairer on Healy, I could’ve gotten behind the premise, but as it stands, The Nice Guys is just too one sided and short sighted for my liking.