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The Nice Guys is No Blast from the Past

<i>The Nice Guys</i> is No Blast from the Past

"I work in a cesspool," says P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling), and watching the film, you can't help but agree. You may have fond memories of the buddy-cop movies of the late '80s and '90s, but the genre has not worn well. A story about a dead porn star, a missing girl and the "lovable lowlifes" forced to work together to find her makes The Nice Guys one of the more unpleasant viewing experiences of the year. 1 out of 5.


In 1977 Los Angeles, the death of a porn star leads to an investigation of a missing girl (Margaret Qualley). Hired for the job by the missing girl’s mother (Kim Basinger) is bruising tough guy Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who specializes in physically assaulting people who bring trouble to his clients. Healy enlists the help of heavy-drinking private investigator March. March's 13-year-old daughter (Angourie Rice) assists in cracking the case.

What Works?

Crowe and Gosling do their best with the material, but the script is so unsettled that it's difficult to adjust to their performances. The late-1970s period details are right, but the porn-industry milieu of much of the story makes it hard to care about such accuracy.

What Doesn't?

Even on the terms of buddy-cop stories, The Nice Guys is middling at best. Much of its humor rises from the film's abundance of violence and its sex-industry setting. A few stabs at religious dialogue are played strictly for laughs but don't work. The excessive violence and retrograde sexual politics were tired back when this kind of film dominated the summer releases. A couple of decades later, they seem best forgotten rather than looked upon as something that was once enjoyed by mass audiences. Putting a 13-year-old character into the middle of such a story is some sort of new low.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

A nun asks if one of the characters is ready to find God. A character is accused of taking the Lord's name in vain. A character says, "Hallelujah."

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use 
  • Language/Profanity: Lots of foul language, including multiple uses of the f-word and misuse of God's name. A girl confuses the phrase "rim shot" with a sexual term. Scatological talk and discussion of prostitution and strippers.
  • Sexuality/Nudity: A boy looks at a nude centerfold in a men's magazine, then sees the centerfold in person, her breast exposed, as she lays dying. A nude woman swims in a pool. A young teen watches porn with an industry star, and a porn star shares an anecdote about anal sex with a young girl. Brief shots of a porn movie are seen. Nude strippers are shown.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: A car plows into a house. March cuts his arm while breaking a window. Jackson punches a man and snaps March's arm. A man falls off a balcony. A corpse with a bloody face is seen. A gun battle. A grenade detonates, blowing up a man.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: March drinks constantly.

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who miss this sort of violent action blockbuster and can laugh through the carnage and vile setting of much of the story.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who have lost their taste for movies that revel in seedy settings while substituting attempted humor for anything insightful or moving.

The Nice Guys, directed by Shane Black, opened in theaters May 20, 2016; available for home viewing August 23, 2016. It runs 116 minutes and stars Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley and Kim Basinger. Watch the trailer for The Nice Guys here.

Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.

Publication date: May 19, 2016