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September 09, 2016

Movie Review: The Nice Guys

I rented this last night, not expecting too much. I thought I read it wasn't all that good.

So that's how I went in: With low expectations. (Despite being a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, another Shane Black lurid detective-buddy thriller.)

Here's the quick review: Rent it. It's well worth it.

Is it as good as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? No, for a couple of reasons. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's plot was one of the most propulsive I've ever seen. It's hard to get into the plot of a complicated thriller, as a writer. I have never seen a movie in which the writer gets into the plot so quickly. Twenty minutes into that movie, and there are already two corpses, one corpse has now been removed from its resting place and planted in the hero's room to frame him, and the heroes are now trying to dispose of the corpse.


The other thing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang did was just keep throwing on complications and intersections between the two parallel investigations -- throwing more and more balls into the juggling act -- that the viewer simply could not keep up with it, and always felt he was behind in the movie -- an exilerating feeling that jaded thriller-watchers like me feel all too seldomly.

I can't remember the final resolution of the plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or if it made sense. I have a feeling it would not stand up to scrutiny if I thought about it too hard, but that doesn't really matter, how I feel about it retroactively ratiocinating about it: What matters is how I felt during it, and during it, it was all a rush of complication upon complication and Clue Drops and ever-moving action.

The Nice Guys tries to do this some, but the plot is much more straightforward, so you really never get that wonderful WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? feeling that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang achieved. Oh, the plot has a couple of clever twists -- or, not twists so much as novel elements I haven't seen in other detective thrillers (and I've seen a lot of them) -- and has enough of these to count as a clever movie.

Just not nearly as many as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and like Lethal Weapon, Shane Black revels in being as luridly over the top and "grabby" as possible, basically making his movies commentaries/parodies about other lurid thrillers. Other lurid thrillers try to pretend to not be that lurid, to not make it obvious that they're being lurid just for the sake of being lurid.

Black goes the other way: He wants you to know he's being lurid for the sake of being lurid. He wants you to know he knows you want cheap and fast thrills, and he's all too eager to provide them.

This allows him to get away with a lot of plot contrivances that would be more objectionable in a film pretending to be more serious: When people just accidentally trip over bodies in this movie, or deus ex machinas happen like three or four times, you just sort of shrug: It's that kind of movie. These sorts of things just happen.

But on to the point where The Nice Guys equals Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Comedy.

Now, Russell Crowe is a very serious kind of actor, and he's not great at comedy. He lightens up his usual dour performance with some winks and smiles, but he's not terribly funny. In fairness, his character isn't written terribly funny, either; he's the more dramatic of the pair.

Basically Crowe plays the same character he did in LA Confidential: A naturally violent man who wants to find some outlet for his cruel impulses so that he can feel god about himself.

On the other hand, there's Ryan Gosling, who I did not know could turn in this kind of pure-comedy performance.

Gosling's detective is incompetent, lazy, self-dealing, corrupt, frequently drunk, accident-prone, and kind of dumb. You'd think that given that Russel Crowe is the Muscle of the team, then Gosling would, naturally enough, be the Brains.

But no, Gosling's pretty dumb. Crowe is the Muscle and the Brains (at least, to the extent this duo has brains).

What does Gosling bring to the team, then...? Um, clumsiness that uncovers clues randomly, maybe?

Virtually everything Gosling does is funny. Really funny.

I don't want to spoil any jokes, but I'll just allude: At one point, the drunk, incompetent Gosling literally stumbles on to a corpse (the third of the movie), and his reaction is a wonderful steal from an old comedy duo, who used to do this same bit every other movie. The bit killed very time, and I guess Black or Gosling figured that 70 years later it was safe and appropriate to steal it, and I'm glad they did: It was a killer bit back then, and it's a killer bit now. And Gosling does a good job with it.

A lot of the movie seems like Black revisitng his Lethal Weapon script: We have another big opening of a beautiful woman dying suddenly; pornography being the world the mystery's trail winds through; and a woman landing on a car (not in the same way it happened in Lethal Weapon, though I'm sure it's meant as an homage to that film).

In the various porn scenes, there's a lot of nudity. Remember the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Where Steven Spielberg saw the snakes in the Well of the Souls, and said "There's not enough snakes"? And then they shut down production while they scoured every pet store in California for snakes, and trucked in a ton of snakes for the actual shoot of the scene?

Well this movie sort of does this, except instead of snakes, it's tits.

Shane Black once again reverts to one of his two standard plots:

1. It's a conspiracy of corporations

2. It's the government/military/intelligence community faking terrorism in order to get the funds needed to "fight terrorism"

...and some might balk at that, and I guess I kind of don't get how this movie, set in the 70s, fits into our real-world timeline, because the Conspiracy eventually unmasked would surely have made the papers, right? I mean, we'd have heard of this crap, right?

Anyway, the film almost goes overboard on its 70s nostalgia, but only almost; I think it just passes the Too Much point but stops before it gets to Annoying.

There's a kid in the movie -- is this a reference to the 70's O'Neal/O'Neal movie Paper Moon? I dunno. She's not quite so precocious as to be annoying. Almost. Maybe a little too cute and a little too useful in unraveling the mystery.

But the achievement is that there's a kid in this movie in a major role and you don't hate her for it. She's kind of good in places.

Overall, just really very funny. Plot, just not the deleriously convoluted and complicated and gloriously contrived engine of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but decent enough, especially compared to most movies, which suck. A lot of fun had with the 70s setting.

Gosling, a major comedic talent. I did not know this.

Worth your five bucks.

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posted by Ace at 06:32 PM

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