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Nice Guys, The
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by alejandroariera

"Nice Guys Finish Last"
3 stars

In Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys,” being nice in 1977 Los Angeles (or for that matter anytime, any place) is synonymous with being at best naïve and at worst a loser. In one scene, a group of protesters lie down on the steps leading to a federal government agency pretending to be dead as the result of air pollution…while wearing gas masks. In another, a potential client begins to willingly sign a check for $10,000 when one of the two nice guys who give the film its title tells her that he only bills $5,000 for his services. At best these folks get to live to fight another day; at worst, they may end up in a cold slab at the local morgue. Black may be a realist, some might even accuse him of being a misanthrope. But he is still on the side of the angels, even when the scales of justice weigh against them.

Responsible for reinventing the buddy cop genre with his “Lethal Weapon” films, Shane here delivers another odd couple, one that would put Philip Marlowe’s, Sam Spade’s and even Thomas Pynchon’s Larry “Doc” Sportello legacy to shame. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, who put on a significant amount of weight for the role) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) are at the bottom of their profession’s ladder. Healy is occasionally hired as an enforcer by parents who want to protect their teenage daughters from the adult predators who cruise the streets of LA with promises of fame, fortune and drugs; March, an accident prone alcoholic still mourning his wife’s accidental death who has to be driven around town by his precocious 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice who almost steals the film away from its two stars), accepts the scraps left over by other detective agencies.

Healy is hired by a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to beat the crap out of the men who have been following her. March, who has been hired by the aunt of porn star Misty Mountain who still believes she is alive even though Misty died in quite an extraordinary fashion at the beginning of the film, happens to be one of those men. Healy breaks March’s arm; but when Amelia disappears after two hit men break into his apartment and unsuccessfully try to beat the crap out of him, he reluctantly joins forces with March. What follows is an extended repartee between both actors as they make their way across L.A. in search of the missing teen, crashing parties hosted by a porn star producer who worked with Misty, shooting and being shot at. The plot is terribly convoluted: it involves a porn film shot by Amelia’s friend and starring both Misty and Amelia, a conspiracy involving the auto industry and catalytic converters, and a shady Department of Justice attorney who also happens to be Amelia’s mom (Kim Basinger, playing a different kind of femme fatale than her Veronica Lake look alike that seduced Crowe’s tough cop in “L.A. Confidential”).

Sometimes the repartee goes for far too long but more often than not it hits the mark. And even though the dialogue is carefully scripted, I couldn’t help but feel that at times Crowe and Gosling were aiming for a Will Ferrell-improvisational vibe, using Black’s and co-scriptwriter Anthony Bagarozzi’s words as a starting point for their riffing. Gosling has a couple of wonderful zingers and his body language is a throwback to the elastic pratfalls and stunts of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, yet his act becomes frustratingly tiresome after awhile. Crowe comes off much better playing straight man to Gosling’s amiable gumshoe, dropping his voice a couple of notches until it turns into a gravelly, weary growl.

Black has no qualms when it comes to putting children in danger in his films without altogether victimizing them. They are witnesses to the action, sometimes even willing participants. Holly insists in joining her father in his investigation, of being an equal partner: she crashes a party where she is exposed to a porn film while using her teen wiles to find Amelia; and her life is threatened at gun point not once, not twice but several times to the extent that one thug actually criticizes her father for getting her involved. Reprehensible? Maybe. But keep in mind that family has played a key role in Black’s films as both an element that grounds his tough men and as a risk factor for the work they do.

“The Nice Guys” is the kind of entertainment that eats its cake and has it, too. It’s so scuzzy you may feel like you will need to take a shower after watching it. The violence is shocking, sudden, surprising as well it should be. But you can’t help but laugh at the best lines, shake your head at these characters’ ineptitude (even some of the bad guys leave a lot to be desired) and naiveté, enjoy watching two actors play out of their comfort zone, and appreciate how the talented Rice anchors the film with her level-headedness and common sense. “The Nice Guys” both laughs at the conventions of the hard-boiled detective novel and film and embraces them. It may not be a perfect film. But it’s the kind of medium-sized adult genre entertainment the studios should be making more of.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27907&reviewer=434
originally posted: 05/19/16 11:00:00
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User Comments

2/20/17 morris campbell deft blend of crime&comedy 4 stars
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  20-May-2016 (R)
  DVD: 23-Aug-2016


  DVD: 23-Aug-2016

Directed by
  Shane Black

Written by
  Anthony Bagarozzi
  Shane Black

  Ryan Gosling
  Russell Crowe
  Margaret Qualley
  Angourie Rice

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