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Friday, May 20, 2016

Movie Review: #TheNiceGuys

Strong characters and hilarious moments make The Nice Guys an essential comedy.

Review by Matt Cummings

If this summer's playlist going forward seems a bit...lame?...it's because 2016 has the ability to mostly play out that way. One of the exceptions to this march of cinematic malaise is the Shane Black-directed comedy The Nice Guys, perhaps an instant classic in the buddy cop genre, and strong proof that great comedies during this time of the year can also be smart ones.

Los Angeles PI's Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) are not exactly the perfect Dynamic Duo for 1977. The bruiser Healy has been sent to beat up March, who is looking for a missing porn star. But as the two 'meet' with Healy getting the better (broken) hand, the two realize that they're being set up by shadowy and powerful forces. It's revealed that a porno may contain important details of collusion between Detroit's auto companies, and so all those involved are quickly being snuffed out. Holland's daughter Holly (Angourine Rice) soon gets involved as the mysterious porn star finally arises, creating trouble for Holland and a reason to do right by Jackson. As the truth behind these murders is revealed, the two form an unlikely partnership, shooting their way through drug-fueled sex parties, porno plots, corporate shindigs, and attempted assassinations.

The Writer Black joins Anthony Bagarozzi to pen a tightly-wound and hilarious character romp through 70's Los Angeles, in way only Black the Director could. It's whip smart, reverential to the time, and wildly fun, with Black's love for violent tendencies in his protagonists added in for color. There's been a lot of comparisons out there to his 2005 Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, but I'd say it's the best buddy-cop comedy since Black's Lethal Weapon. He loves to pick guys from opposite sides of the street - the straight shot vs the psychopath - and in The Nice Guys he relishes at delivering the seedy side of 1977 LA, when the Hollywoodland sign lay in ruins and the idea of a good time started and ended with a cigarette. This time, it's bumbling PI against angry PI, but it's not all smoke and mirrors. Black imbues his characters with both incredible energy and savvy dialogue. It's the kind of work you hope will be remembered at the Oscars, but part of the attention has to go to his mostly top-notch cast.

Simply put, Crowe and Gosling enjoy the best new-team comedy of the year so far. They excel at being terrible PI's, ignorant, drinking, and shooting their way through LA, while ragging on each other for every reason imaginable. It seems like some of what we see here is also well-crafted ad-lib, which takes on a life of its own several times throughout The Nice Guys. Rice is terrific as the kid who's many times smarter than her dad, definitely more creative, and certainly willing to get her hands dirty. Crowe is straight up bad ass, while Gosling's brilliant detective work seems more like a happy accident each time it happens. Black efficiently sets up their individual origins, giving perhaps the best sequence of the entire film to Crowe, whose visceral reaction to his wife's admission is both hilarious and completely inappropriate. But that's what you get a lot from this trio, who form an alliance that's hard to beat and totally enjoyable to observe.

The one exception here is Basinger, who's been caught lately in several performances that remind me of a black hole, sucking in energy and dialogue and producing nothing. She seems ill-prepared to handle the likes of Gosling and Crowe, even being outstripped by Rice in every way. It's the only complaint I have for a film that even ends in unexpected ways, surprising me in just how deep Black was prepared to take this story. It would have been easy enough for the good guys to be so, to win the day and celebrate as they did throughout the movie, with us lovingly adoring their pitch-perfect chemistry. But The Nice Guys rejects that, delving instead deep into reveals and grayish endings, essentially placing a mirror on how real-life forces above us sometimes conspire to deny us the truth.

But let's not kid ourselves: The Nice Guys is also a summer film and quite an enjoyable one at that, wrapping us in hilarious gun battles, 70's rock tunes, and an impressive amount of one-liners that's sure to stick around long after you get that cigarette smell out of your clothes. Along the way, we're shot at, punched, thrown through fake glass, overwhelmed with boobs, and tossed out of a building. It's got summer written all over it, with enough nostalgia and excellent acting to keep naysayers entertained as well. By the end, there's a strong indication that we'll see further installments, something I hope becomes a reality. Black is firing on all cylinders, and he can take my money any time.

It's too early to say if The Nice Guys is a comedy classic, but Black makes a strong case for consideration. Bolstered by excellent characters and mostly terrific performances, it's the kind of surprise worthy of our immediate attention and perhaps our enduring appreciation.

The Nice Guys is rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use and has a runtime of 116 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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