Saturday, September 3, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys
directed by Shane Black
Although neither lead character is actually a cop, this is a cop buddy film. It touches most of the obvious themes and tropes you'd expect to see in these sorts of films. That is to say, two guys who don't really like each other and approach their shared work from vastly different perspectives wind up working together. 

After the requisite fracas and figurative measuring of body parts the two men realize that they may not make such a bad team after all. They're like peanut butter and jelly. Thunder and lightning. Salt and pepper. Spenser and Hawk. Fire and Ice. Canseco and McGuire. Murtaugh and Riggs. Watch out world! Well you get the idea. The director was the writer for the original Lethal Weapon. So the plot is not that important here. Large portions of it don't make much sense when you sit down to think about it. But who spends a lot of time thinking about acton film plots anyway? The problem with this film, and maybe "problem" is too strong of a descriptor, was that the film lacked a singular effective big bad or a female love interest.

Missing one of those things wouldn't have really hurt the film but missing both of them slightly damaged my interest in the movie's storyline. Maybe you will feel differently. As is typical in the genre this movie has a fair amount of comedy, some of it slapstick. I thought this worked well. As mentioned there is not a female love interest (in the normal sense) for either lead but perhaps to make up for that there is some amount of female toplessness and bare flesh.  It makes sense given the subject matter and surroundings. The film takes place in 1970s Los Angeles and like the movie Lovelace, reviewed here, The Nice Guys does an admirable job at recreating the look and feel of those times.

This includes everything from the fonts to the clothes, music, cars, and technology on display. Like Lovelace this film examines some shady goings on connected to the adult industry. Unlike Lovelace, The Nice Guys keeps the actual nuts and bolts of that industry at a distance. With the exception of the opening scene and a few party scenes the sex industry is not really essential to the story line. This movie doesn't have an axe to grind on that front. Most of the bad guys are not even involved in the adult film industry. The Nice Guys wants to investigate corruption and malfeasance that goes far beyond the adult film industry.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a licensed private investigator of mediocre skills and wavering moral commitments. His charming looks don't pay the bills by themselves. But they do allow him to slow walk easy cases and string out elderly people for work he has either already completed or knows can't be done. Before you judge him too harshly keep in mind that he has a disturbingly precocious young teen daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) to provide for. Holland and Holly are working through some family tragedy together. Holly is well aware that her father is not always the most diligent private investigator out there but like most daughters she still has a touching, if occasionally naive, belief in her father's abilities. Their interactions drive a lot of the movie and rarely if ever feel forced. It was somewhat reminiscent of Paper Moon. Holly is smarter than her father. She drives him (she's only 13) to his appointments when he's unable to do so. And just like a stereotypical girlfriend or wife would in her place, Holly often refuses to stay out of her father's business, resulting in her continual capture by various bad guys. 

Heck by the second or third time this happened if I were Holland I might have said "You got yourself into this kiddo, get yourself out!" but of course fathers don't usually say such things to daughters in peril. YMMV on this. Anyhow Holland is hired by an old lady to find her niece, the voluptuous adult starlet Misty Mountains. We know that Misty Mountains is dead because we saw her die in the opening scene of the movie. And Holland also knows she's dead. But this old lady is insisting she saw Misty. Like Clay Davis from The Wire Holland will take your money if you want to give it to him. Holland reasons that the old lady must have mistaken one of her niece's friends, Amelia (Margaret Qualley) for Misty. Amelia also works in the adult industry. Holland figures he will just track down Amelia and get her to explain to the old lady that Misty really is dead.  

Unfortunately Amelia doesn't want to be found. She has, via cut-outs, hired mercenary Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to "convince" Holland to back off. Jackson is sort of an unlicensed private detective whose primary skill is muscle work. Unlike Holland he takes his job very seriously. He beats up Holland and breaks his arm, easily convincing him to drop the case. Holland is a lover, not a fighter. But later that night, at Jackson's home someone tries to muscle the muscleman. He doesn't like that. Doesn't like it one bit. And since the people who tried to lean on Jackson are also looking for Amelia, Jackson feels that the responsible logical thing to do is to find and protect Amelia before these other people do. So he has to go back to Holland's house and lay all this out to Holland and Holly. 

This time, he has to do his convincing with his words instead of his fists. Jackson might be in the mood to prove to himself that he can do more than beat people up. And hopefully Holland is in the mood to make some money and even do the right thing. This starts an adventure that will range across Los Angeles and reveal conspiracies involving the mob, corporate interests, the government and of course the adult industry. Kim Basinger has a bit role as a government official who says she wants to help the two men. Matt Bomer and Keith David are people with openly hostile intentions towards the two heroes. Yaya DaCosta and Beau Knapp have small parts.

I liked how neither lead is a morally good person. Jackson will often protect the weak but does so because that gives him a chance to hurt people, not necessarily because it's the right thing to do. Holly doesn't like Jackson's predilection towards violence and not just because he beat up her father. On the other hand Jackson's pretty stringent about returning value for money. If you hire him you will get his best effort or your money back. On very very rare occasions Jackson might even do something for you and not ask for any money. You don't really have to worry about Holland breaking your arms or fracturing your jaw but he will cheerfully overcharge you for work he may not even complete. But even if he doesn't overcharge you, most likely because he's too lazy to learn the correct market rate, he will definitely charge you something. Working for free is against his religion.

Holland doesn't care too much about doing the right thing. He cares about paying his bills and getting his daughter into a safer environment. As mentioned, these two make a good team. Gosling's Holland is really fun. He knows he should be doing the right thing but he has financial needs that come first. The character has a tremendous amount of job incompetence mixed with physical failings. However just when you think he's utterly useless he comes up with a fine piece of detective work that no one else could have done. There's a lot of updated references to classic comedy from Abbott and Costello. I didn't know that Gosling could so effectively make fun of himself. He's always chasing someone and falling down, falling over something else or tripping over his own feet. 

The film is rated R for violence and many massive mammaries, but I didn't feel that either aspect was overdone. Unlike Chinatown or other seventies masterpieces I wouldn't say this movie is cynical. All in all this was a worthwhile film if you are in the mood for an action film that has plenty of comedy. It's uneven but fun. Gosling and Crowe look like they're having a good time together.
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