The latest from my semi-namesake Shane Black was simultaneously pitched with an appeal to 70s nostalgia and the first-time teaming of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the obligatory mismatched "buddies" and manages to deliver most of what it promises on both counts.
Ridiculously-complicated story short? Crowe is Jackson Healy, a 'problem-solver' for hire ("You get paid to beat people up? Cool!") and Gosling is Holland March, private eye (somehow maintaining his lifestyle by bilking elderly clients who don't know any better). The two inevitably collide over a conflict of interest regarding the whereabouts of young Amelia MacGuffin (Margaret Qualley). No, that's not really her character name, but it's a fair representation of Amelia's function... the plot involves an industrial conspiracy with consequences sure to change the world as we know it today--except we already know that they didn't.. March, unsurprisingly, receives the brutal end of this encounter, but circumstances soon cause his antagonist to reconsider and enlist his assistance.
THE NICE GUYS is at its best while our heroes test each others' limits and patience: Crowe and Gosling have seemingly effortless chemistry and are never less than great fun to watch--and that's the trailer you saw. What the trailer did NOT tell you is that March's 13-year-old daughter (Angourie Rice, who's confident and effective without being cloying) manages to accompany the duo and serve as their respective consciences throughout pretty much the entire movie... yes, even when the film goes into BOOGIE NIGHTS territory for perhaps the best extended sequence (a raging party at the mansion of a noted adult film producer). Here, we see that while the film may be set in the 70s (they nail it fairly well even though AIRPORT 1977 and JAWS 2 weren't playing simultaneously) the comic influence reaches all the way back to the classics--there's no better illustration than when March makes a gruesome discovery and tries to get Healy's attention from an uncomfortable position... A&C fans will no doubt expect him to finally scream "OH, CHIIIICCCKKKK!!!!"
There's also a great array of supporting villainy and suspicious characters to enjoy: Keith David is especially welcome as "Older Guy," Beau Knapp earns the nickname "Blueface" in an impressive turn, and Kim Basinger may know more than she's telling. Oh, and Gil Gerard's in this, but I must confess that I failed to recognize Buck.
If you sense that I'm avoiding the details as much as possible, you're quite right: THE NICE GUYS deserves to play out its series of sight gags and surprises without someone telling you ahead of time what to look out for. That said, Black takes the film out of the hands of its characters at a crucial point on the apparent demand of the 'script gods'--he wanted something specific to happen (and alter the tone of the film) at a certain time and the only way he COULD make it happen was to have a series of characters make some incredibly stupid and unbelievable (yes, even for them) decisions. Sadly, the film can't make a 100% recovery from that point--but it still manages to wind up on a satisfying note and earns a recommendation. Enough said, methinks.
As in not off. If you want to post about mainstream flicks, this is the forum.
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