And they say nice guys finish last…well they do with box office returns
Yes, people I’m back at writing reviews. Two weeks of silence was not fun for me either, but had a lot to do (new job, short vacation, home fuckery, etc) and now I’m back. To start my return tour, we’ll go to probably the most overlooked May release of quality, The Nice Guys. Coming straight from the mind of Shane Black, director of the unfairly-criticized Iron Man 3 and writer of classic films like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. But for his latest, it’ll harken back to one of his more recent fare, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang…because The Nice Guys is literally Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but set in the 70s. That’s not a complaint, mind you, simply an observation.
We’ve got Ryan Gosling as Holland March, a sleazy private eye making ends meet with crappy assignments while he swindles his client, and Russell Crowe as Jack Healy, an enforcer who beats the shit out of people for anyone who pays him. When their paths cross due to intervention of a girl named Amelia, her sudden disappearance creates a partnership between the two as they dig in to a criminal underworld filled with pornograhy, extortion, corruption, and everything that made buddy cop films fucking amazing in the 80s and 90s.
See what makes The Nice Guys so entertaining to watch is the rich dialogue between Gosling and Crowe as penned by Shane Black. If you couldn’t tell from his filmography, this guy is a pro at developing relationships between characters that feels both human and endlessly watchable. All of the characters chat with witty dialogue that matches each one’s unique personality and allows for some interesting development showing dimensions to each person.
Particularly between Gosling and Crowe as Holland and Jackson is where you see the Shane Black magic shine. Both actors really demonstrate in this movie a comedic timing that I knew both had in lesser known roles, but they really get to show off their range in this movie by getting big laughs out of the audience while showing a humanity and pathos to their characters that lesser thespians would have difficulty with.
But what makes their exchange all the memorable on the level of (or even greater than) Lethal Weapon, is that both of these guys are kinda fuck ups. Gosling’s Holland may be a street-wise detective who can pick up on subtle hints; but he lacks an essential tool in a detective’s skillset, is a total drunk, and a complete spaz in the middle of a gunfight. Crowe’s Jackson may be a hardened fighter with a heart of gold but he’s too slow on the uptake to realize he’s been duped and can fall into despair a little more easier than his already cynical counterpart. You see, this is called depth, there’s a bunch of dimensions to these characters that make them relatable and entertaining to watch at the same time. They’re truly flawed people, and not in the typical Hollywood flaw of he’s too pretty or he’s too tough, but in a more realistic and way more interesting way that normal people can connect with.
Joining the hapless duo are a great cast of character actors ranging from Keith David, Matt Bomer (White Collar dude), Beau Knapp and Kim Basinger (okay she’s not that great in it, but whatever she hardly works these days). But the crown jewel in this supporting cast is this young girl named Angourie Rice, who plays as Holland’s daughter, Holly. A more clever and way more invested child character compared to Black’s boy Iron Man 3, Holly reminds me of Penny assisting her clueless uncle Inspector Gadget with her wit and deductive skills.
For The Nice Guys, Holly throws herself into the investigation of the missing Amelia but not in annoying character way where their actions would usually get them caught (see Short Round from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom as an example of how this can go horribly wrong). She knows how to blend in to her surroundings, careful with her questioning, and even gets her dad and her dad’s new partner out of a few tight situations. She’s a fun addition into a piece that’s already brimming with personality.
I really couldn’t find much to complain about here, save for the action being a little…well uninspired. It’s serviceable and it does the job fine, but it doesn’t excite in the way Black’s previous efforts have accomplished. Save for one scene (that was spoiled in the trailer) there really weren’t any surprises in the action department, which was a shame coming off the heels of Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Speaking of which, yes this movie’s structure is absurdly similar to the Robert Downey, Jr-Val Kilmer team up. But the tone of the two movies are markedly different.
The Nice Guys is way meaner than Black’s last buddy cop romp, taking on the form of a neo-noir story that wouldn’t look out of place among the likes of Chinatown or The Maltese Falcon. But what this movie has over those classics is that you don’t have a single cynical main character who grumbles about how the whole justice system is shit, but you have TWO cynical main characters who grumble about how the whole justice system is shit. The important difference between these scenarios (besides numbers obviously) is that the humor is allowed to be way more edgier with more teeth to it because you’ve got two different people approaching a difficult situation in different ways.
Oh yeah, and there’s a weird environmentalist message that comes in at the very end that felt a little out of place. Some may argue that the environmentalist message was a plot device in this film (it is), but one of the main cast members straight up looks into the camera and espouses a sad, blunt and truthful message about the environment. It’s not really a dealbreaker, but it did take me out of the movie for a little bit. Thankfully, the film was over two minutes later and they capped with a strong gag that I basically forgot it bugged me at all.
Minor gripes aside, this is a damn fine film.Smart comedy, great characters, an intriguing plot, and gorgeous camera work combine to form one of my most entertaining movies of 2016. You’ll likely have to rent this movie at this point, but this is an absolute must see. And if you can catch this in theaters some place, go out and check it out ASAP because this is a high…