Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Nice Night at the Movies

This past weekend, I went to see the latest movie from Shane Black, The Nice Guys. He's known for writing the first two Lethal Weapons, and for both writing and directing Iron Man 3. I was interested because he's also behind a movie I've praised a few times on the blog, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The elevator pitch for this movie seemed to be "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang set in the late 1970s." So count me in!

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are this movie's odd couple pairing. The former is Jackson Healy, an "enforcer" hired to beat people up; the latter is Holland March, a hard-drinking private detective trying to raise his teenage daughter alone. When the two team up to find a missing political-activist-turned-porn-star, hijinks ensue.

Movies like this always hinge on the casting, and the casting here works. I've never been a particular fan of Russell Crowe, but his stern tough guy act is here cut with just the right dash of comedic resignation: "I can't believe I'm in this story with this other guy." And Ryan Gosling is brilliant, perfectly pompous and sly in alternating measure, and playing tons of hilarious physical comedy throughout the movie.

What's particularly fun here is that the movie isn't quite an odd couple pairing so much as an odd trio. March's daughter Holly frequently finds herself (or inserts herself) into the action, and young Angourie Rice is perfect in the role. She has a great comedic instinct that keeps the kid-in-danger conceit from turning horrifying, and plays wonderfully opposite both Crowe and Gosling.

The film is also peppered with plenty of other minor characters that each give some hard-working actor a chance to do something fun and memorable. You'll know Matt Bomer and Kim Basinger (and they are both good), but I'm talking about a procession of actors you won't know by name, and might not even recognize. It's one of those movies where even a character with just one short scene can get several funny lines.

But enjoyable though it is, it doesn't quite stack up to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The tangled plot is considerably more opaque. Sometimes the laughs are more sparse. Several scenes are gimmicky in a way that, while getting the laugh, feel a bit less than satisfying upon reflection. "We know you love this schtick," the movie says, as it tries to do it again just as well, yet not quite reaching the mark.

To be clear, I did have a lot of fun with The Nice Guys, and would recommend it -- but maybe not in the theater, maybe not for everyone. I give it a B+. If you're looking for something not superheroic to sandwich between Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse, this is probably your ticket. If movies are a less frequent thing for you, consider a Redbox or Netflix night a bit down the road.

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