Combustible Celluloid
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With: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger, Keith David, Ty Simpkins, Yaya DaCosta, Beau Knapp, Lois Smith, Murielle Telio, Gil Gerard, Daisy Tahan, Jack Kilmer
Written by: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Directed by: Shane Black
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/29/2016

The Nice Guys (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Inherent 'Nice'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shane Black's The Nice Guys brings us a 1970s that's halfway between Inherent Vice and the Beastie Boys' Sabotage video, shabby and scrappy and loose. Its opening titles feature a disco font, and its funky soundtrack features Earth, Wind & Fire, The Temptations, and Al Green. There are lots of big ties, though perhaps not so many big sideburns. Above all, the movie captures that era's "let's see what we can get away with" vibe.

Ryan Gosling stars, and is very funny, as Holland March, a half-wit private detective who is more interested in getting paid — and drinking — than in solving any mysteries. He has a tween daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who follows him around, sometimes criticizes him, sometimes helps him, and very much wants to be proud of him. March stumbles upon the mystery of a dead porn star called "Misty Mountains," which also involves a missing girl, Amelia (Margaret Qualley). It turns out that professional thug Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who beats people up for money, is also looking for her, and after a few painful-looking confrontations, the two men decide to team up. They discover that just about everyone who worked on a certain "art film" (with porn in it) has died.

This is Black's third directorial effort, after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and the megahit (but still underrated) Iron Man 3 (2013), though he is, of course, best known as a successful screenwriter of such titles as Lethal Weapon (1987), The Last Boy Scout (1991), and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). As with most of Black's stories, the plot is convoluted, and kinda-sorta make sense if you think about it. As long as you're aware of what's going on in any particular moment, you can more or less let the rest go. Black's stories also usually deal with a pair or duo that don't entirely get along until they pass through the baptism of action. But most of all, his films are all outrageous subversions of typical action movies. Things happen in a big way, and are frequently ridiculous. (Finally, all of Black's films take place at Christmas, and The Nice Guys ends with a Christmas sequence.)

The Nice Guys plays it fast and loud, and it's fun. The jokes range from weirdly deadpan to Abbott-and-Costello style goofball to rapid-fire explosions. But it can feel a little overwhelming. Compared to Black's other films, especially the excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it's a tad frantic, with new jokes hurled at us before we've had a chance to rest. (Big laughs and small laughs aren't interspersed well.) Moreover, while Crowe does his job as a straight man, it feels like he never fully bonds with Gosling. They don't have a totally effortless chemistry. I suspect that this is because Gosling is fully committed to playing a lovable idiot, while Crowe seems a tad uncomfortable with comedy, and perhaps even less comfortable stepping out of his usual zone. However, this is not to say that I didn't enjoy the movie; it's just that I'm rooting for Black to do something great. But I'll take a good movie like this one any day.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray looks terrific, making all those 1970s tunes and all that decor really pop; I hope more people check out this potential cult item over the coming months. Unfortunately, the extras are a bit skimpy, with only two short studio-produced featurettes and some trailers. A DVD and a digital copy are included.

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