Shane Black’s brilliant noir-com The Nice Guys is as beautiful and pointless as the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, with alcohol replacing marijuana as the detective’s drug of choice. The central plot in both movies is little more than an excuse to spend time with the incompetent, charming and hilarious central characters as they shamble the sun-drenched streets of Los Angeles.
On the Lebowski set, Jeff Bridges asked the Coen brothers if his character The Dude had lit one up before the start of every scene. The answer was always yes, so the actor rubbed his eyes vigorously to get the appropriate stoner face on before the cameras rolled. It was the only direction he was given.
In The Nice Guys we first meet Ryan Gosling’s Holland March sodden in a bathtub and like Bridges’ Dude is continually topping up his inebriated state as the thriller elements of the plot unfold around him. Indeed, his idea of success is to get drunk in the afternoon. The Dude would agree.
As the Dude had John Milius homage Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) for a powder-keg pal, so March has punchy sidekick Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), both finding their own (mostly unsuccessful) ways to deal with anger issues.
Each duo fails at every turn to save any day, although at least March does persuade Healy to jump off the wagon at the movie’s end and join him in drunken acceptance of their own mediocrity.
Both movies trail off into the LA smog. We don’t get to see Jeff and Walter beat Jesus in a bowl off, and Holland and Jackson are told quite clearly that they have accomplished nothing. It doesn’t matter. The immense pleasure in both movies is not the destination, but the sheer joy of the ride.