Dear Slovak National Symphony Orchestra,
Maybe I’m prejudiced, or possibly (definitely) just old, but 1970s cop/detective shows had the best music. I always imagined a studio’s orchestra full of hirsute, polyester-clad musicians with nicotine-stained fingers, plucking strings, pressing brass valves, and slapping congas while assistants flipped pages titled, “Bad Guys Break Into The Warehouse”, “Driving Down Sunset Blvd. at Night While Smoking”, and of course, “Chase Scene!”. Though your orchestra pit was likely much different from the ones found on Hollywood lots in the 70s, you recreated a sound that was funky, sleazy, suspenseful, goofy and yet satisfyingly predictable. It’s an aural backdrop for a world where The Nice Guys feel perfectly at home.
I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the tropes of 70s cop/detective shows considering that Slovakia was under control of the former Soviet Union at that time, but The Nice Guys could be considered an excellent primer. Here are a few to get you started; there’s a begrudging buddy element , the plot is a few octaves past ridiculous, there’s a wise-beyond-her years kid, tuxedoed bartenders with information, scantily clad women disco dancing, an elaborate chase scene, fantastical car crashes, gratuitous gunfire, a wacky conspiracy, a villain too narcissistic to admit wrongdoing, and Velveeta-smooth wocka-chicka-wah score punctuating every beat.
Of course, you don’t need to be a fan of 70s TV shows like Rockford Files, Kojack, or Starsky & Hutch to enjoy The Nice Guys, but it helps. You see, The Nice Guys is an anomaly – it’s a summertime actioner starring two hugely popular actors that seems specifically designed for the sensibilities of the over-35 demographic. Writer/Director Shane Black fashioned this as an homage, as he did with 2005’s love letter to film noir, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and while both films are of the hard-boiled detective genre, The Nice Guys is decidedly a period piece. Starting with the old-school balloon letter Warner Brothers logo, to gas station line-ups, and a villain based on a _Waltons character, this film is full of enough value-added references (the names Tim Allen, Richard Lewis and Elaine Boosler on The Comedy Store marquis, for example) for even the most cynical Gen Xer to feel loved.
Our guides through this gritty, labyrinthine L.A. of 1977 are Russell Crowe’s Healy, a badass heavy with a heart of gold, and the World’s Worst Detective, Holland March, played by Ryan Gosling. The bickering-married-couple-chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is as classic as Archie and Edith’s, and they know it. The plot here – involving the missing daughter of a member of the Department of Justice, a porno that has left a trail of dead bodies, and a Detroit automaker scandal – is secondary to how much fun it is watching two incredibly talented and well-matched actors having such obvious fun themselves. Crowe is the consummate straight man to Gosling’s bumbling, mugging, scenery-chewing clown. Their timing is perfect 4/4 all the way.
Your xylophones, marimbas, and chimes accentuate an already ludicrous tableau. The Nice Guys isn’t subtle, it’s slapstick. Its comic sensibility is more in tune with the buffoonery of 70’s spoof Anchorman than the drollness of neo-noir favourite The Big Lebowski. Black doesn’t worry too much about nuance, veracity, or character development and neither should we. Your thumping funk beats, hi-hats, tempo changes, and literal score – perfect fifths for the heroes, augmented fourths for the baddies – encourage the audience to just let go and enjoy the ride.