The Nice Guys (2016)

Shane Black is back!…back doing what Shane Black does best!! The man is pretty much the epitome of ‘Living the Hollywood Dream’. In his early 20’s, in California circa the mid-1980’s, a script of his came to the attention of powerhouse Film Producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros., with his ‘R-Rated Action Movie story, ‘Lethal Weapon’. After selling this piece of writing for a cool $1 million, which was record-breaking as script prices went, and having the movie, under the very capable direction of accomplished director Richard Donner (‘The Goonies’), and the crackling chemistry of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, go on to be a HUGE hit, his name became tied to Big Budget Action / Buddy Comedy ‘popcorn’ movies, almost over-night. After that one, he worked on ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ (1989), personal favorite ‘The Last Boy Scout’ (1990), the undeservedly maligned ‘The Last Action Hero’ (1993), and ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ (1996), among others. Then in 2005, he got his chance to direct one of his stories for the first time and what resulted was the exceptionally entertaining ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, which was most certainly a ‘Shane Black’ story that showed that, stylistically, he’d been paying close attention to the characteristic visual aesthetic given to his scripts by other film-makers, notably Donner and the late Tony Scott (‘The Last Boy Scout’). When all these elements were brought together, the result was highly refreshing, funny and exciting. Luckily ‘Kiss Kiss’ received enough critical notice and dollars at the Box Office to get Black another high profile Writing / Directing job, this time on the 3rd installment of Marvel’s ‘Iron Man’ series, in 2013. It was a hit. So we all knew we would be seeing ‘Shane Black’s name in the ‘Directed By’ credit on some else in the future. And here we are!…The Future!!
The first time I got wind of this as his next project was when the hilarious ‘Red Band’ teaser trailer hit the InterWebz, about 6 months ago. I distinctly remember laughing out loud at Ryan Gosling clumsily fumbling around for his revolver while in a public bathroom stall, cigarette clamped in his face and his pants around his ankles. Then there was a bunch of wisecracks and gunfire. The tone of the trailer and the adult-oriented rating were very encouraging, especially when Black’s name came up. After calling a co-worker and fellow Geek over to check it out at my desk and both of us having a laugh as a result, I mentally penciled it into my mental Upcoming Movies calendar. And here we are.
‘The Nice Guys’ opens in that pit of scum and villainy known as Los Angeles, California circa the year of my birth, 1977. After an amusing intro featuring a kid, a porno mag, a wrecked house, a crashed car and a dead porn actress, we meet ‘Jackson Healy’ (Russell Crowe); a not-quite-private eye / Thug For Hire doing his rounds, ie giving people ‘beat downs’ for cash. He tends to favor broken arms (“Spiral fracture”) and brass knuckles for this anti-social professional pursuit. During his rounds, he’s paid to put The Fear into a supposed scumbag name ‘Holland March’ (Ryan Gosling). It turns out ‘March’ is an actual Private Eye who has been contracted to find a missing girl named ‘Amelia’ (Margaret Qualley), who ‘Healy’ has been paid to keep ‘March’ away from. After some comedic misadventures, these two guys (one tough, one not so much), along with ‘March’s spunky and surprisingly resourceful daughter ‘Holly’ (Angourie Rice), set out to crack the case…and not get killed in the process.
This is PURE Shane Black…and it works really well on that level. As I was watching (and enjoying) this one, I couldn’t help but to notice certain patterns that Black has injected into his stories, going all the way back to his first, 1987’s ‘Lethal Weapon’. Like THAT series, here we have two mismatched, quip-spouting law enforcement-types who grudgingly put aside past antagonism to solve a case, usually involving Murder and Conspiracy. This is definitely the base plot to the ‘Lethal Weapon’ flicks, but can easily be applied to ‘The Last Boy Scout’, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’, and ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ also. There’s also the mouthy and smarter-than-they-should-be offspring element, also seen in ‘The Last Boy Scout’ and ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’. And it wouldn’t be a Shane Black movie if the bastard didn’t SOMEHOW find a way to shoe-horn Christmas in there too (Seriously, Shane…what is the deal with your Xmas fetish, dude!?!). This COULD be seen as a criticism, and to a certain ‘Hey, I’d love to see what ELSE Shane Black can write / direct’ degree…it is. But he’s been at this type of writing for nearly 3 decades and he certainly established a certain ‘comfort zone’ with it. Plus, with the late-70’s setting, the seedy porno background, the fun action beats and the snappy, amusing dialogue, this seemed like as good a place as any for his trademark style.
I will admit that I didn’t laugh as hard as I hoped I would…but happily, this movie is consistently loaded with ‘chuckle-worthy’ moments, with a few awesome laugh-out-loud sequences peppered into the mix too. The chemistry between Gosling, Crowe and Rice (the daughter does make herself useful here) is great and the lines come fast and funny, especially from Gosling. For a pretty boy dumbass from Burnaby, BC (who my girlfriend adores!), I have to admit that he is growing on me as an Actor, and this role helped a lot with that. He’s funny, he fully inhabits the shlubby, but well-meaning detective with conviction, and can handle himself in an action scene. I’ve always liked Russell Crowe, going back to 1997’s superb ‘LA Confidential’, and it was a treat to see him back on screen with ‘LA’ co-star Kim Basinger (‘Batman’), here playing a shady upper-tier law enforcement official with a tie to the missing girl. Other members of the cast stood out nicely as well, such as the always reliable Keith David (‘The Thing’) and Matt Bomer (‘Magic Mike’) as very different hitmen on the trail of our heroes.
While this is definitely an Action / COMEDY, there needs to be some mention of the action. Black has definitely proved that he learned a thing or two over the years and has become quite adept at shooting and cutting an effective action scene. There are a few good ones here and the only real complaint I have about THAT element is that, during the climactic shoot-out (c’mon…you KNOW there’s going to be one!), a car explodes. For no reason. People open fire with handguns…and this random car just blows up out of the blue. We don’t see any explosives till later, but no reason for this detonation is given, at that point in the narrative. It felt like something important had been sliced out in Editing, to explain this mysterious blast of fire and debris…but then the bullets, blood and jokes kept flying…and I got over it. It just seemed a little sloppy, considering how ‘tight’ everything had been up to that point.
On a Sound level, no complaints here. On top of a kick-ass 1970’s-infused soundtrack, the actual Sound Design was great. Gunfire especially sounded meaty and powerful, with a lot of bass that really filled out the Soundscape during the few hectic gun-battles that break out around our heroes.
Given the 1970’s setting, some props need to be given to Production Design, as it felt like it was 1977, a worn, sun-baked and smoggy Southern California 1977. The attention to detail was very much appreciated and that also extends to certain ‘real life’ elements from the time period that Shane injected into the script, like the Gas Embargo line-ups, growing public concern for the environment, and the line-up of comics at the famous Comedy Store (Tim Allen? In ’77? Ok.). Little details in the background were great to see (loved the Jaws 2 billboard and retro commercials!), and went the extra mile to make the ‘world’ feel tangible.
If I had to complain about SOMETHING, I could pull something about the script / story to the surface. Given the ‘twisty turny’ nature of the narrative, a couple times it felt like it was NEARLY too clever and complicated for it’s own good. But even as I was occasionally wondering how a certain character or event related to another character or event in the story, something funny or exciting would happen and I could just push passed the potential plot-hole and go where the amusing film noir wanted to take me.
All in all, ‘The Nice Guys’ was a REALLY entertaining movie for adults that has a lot going for it, despite not being quite as hilarious as I was expecting or hoping for. The Leads are charismatic, with good comedic chemistry and action prowess, the story will keep you guessing, and the soundtrack is 1970’s awesome. My girlfriend and I had a good time with this one, on a cloudy Statutory Holiday Monday afternoon and, given how many other people around us were chuckling or out-right laughing too, we clearly weren’t the only ones. It was fun, being in a crowd that went along for the ride the movie was trying to take us on, and in doing so, it added to the Movie Going Experience. It was that element that would lead me to recommend seeing this in the theatre, but in reality, given the character and setting-based dynamic of the movie, you’ll probably also have a good time if you see ‘The Nice Guys’ streaming, or on disk. Bottom line is, you should see this movie. If you’re a fan of Shane Black’s style and past filmography, or just like a good blend of comedy and action, then ‘The Nice Guys’ will almost undoubtedly work for YOU!

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