The buddy genre is dead. Bret Ratner more or less did it in with Rush Hour 3 and since then, I have yet to see a proper resurgence. The genre was very much of its time with a lot of success like Blues Brothers and Dumb and Dumber. Today I cannot recall any new buddy films that have the same notoriety. Director Shane Black comes from that background as the writer of Lethal Weapon and I could not think of a better choice for Nice Guys. Has the buddy genre risen from the grave or is the corpse too far rotten?
To track down a missing girl Healy, played by Russell Crowe, teams up with a private investigator named March, played by Ryan Gosling, to help him with the search. As the two look closer, they discover a conspiracy involving government officials and pornographers.
The only thing you need to get right in a buddy movie are the characters and Nice Guys is a perfect example of how to write and cast a good pair. What makes Healy and March work is the juxtaposition of how they appear versus how they act. The former looks like a man you send to kill somebody, but has principles and is honest. While the latter is handsome, he is also a scumbag that drowns his problems in liquor.
In action, Healy’s experience and skill show as he handles situations in an efficient manner. He is very nice and approaches others with a kind demeanor. March is the exact opposite where he is a coward that cannot do anything without causing serious personal injury. Being a dejected scam artist, he exploits situations for his own benefit and hates himself.
The difference between Healy and March is what makes Nice Guys work. Both bring their own ideas and methods that bounce off one another to varying degrees. March is a bumbling narcissist, but he balances out Healy’s stubborn insecurities. These conflicting traits make up the comedy where Healy struggles to deal with March’s incompetence. One gag is March cutting his wrist after breaking some glass to open a locked door. Later he tries to toss a weapon to Healy and chucks it out a window. The two work in tandem with each other and without the unlikely chemistry of Crowe and Gosling, Nice Guys would have failed.
The two main characters make the movie succeed because the rest is not as impressive. The story is predictable and the real villains very obvious. I will leave it at that because the twist is hard to not spoil. The pacing was slow in some places. At one point Healy and March are questioning people at a party that goes on forever, then they are driving to a hotel, and the rest periods between the action feels slow. Granted, as long as the buddy pair was well established, the rest of the film could have gone either way. It is like complaining about the minimal plot in Doom (2016); you do not need context to shoot demons.
On the merits of Crowe and Gosling’s chemistry, Nice Guys succeeds where buddy movies used to excel. It sets the standard for how to write characters and cast actors that work as well as their parts do on paper. While the actual story leaves a lot to be desired, Healy and March make the film enjoyable because of who they are. If Civil War is a character driven superhero drama, Nice Guys is a character driven buddy comedy.
Give it a look.