THE NICE GUYS (2016, R, 116 minutes, MISTY MOUNTAINS/WARNER BROTHERS)
Shane Black is one of those directors that leave an indelible mark on your psyche.
No one does a buddy-movie quite like him; his dialogue, his action, is all so recognizable that you know you are either watching something he wrote, directed, or both. LETHAL WEAPON, KISS KISS BANG BANG, THE LAST BOYSCOUT—all films that feature one main, recurring element that Black has always had a knack for: The Odd Couple.
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star as Holland March and Jack Healey (respectively), two guys following a simple missing persons case that gets a whole lot bigger as they bumble their way through the conspiracy. Gosling plays March as a private detective that gets through life by acting like he knows everything, whereas Healey is hired muscle whose answer to most of his cases is a solid punch to the face. Neither one is as smart as they want to be, and neither as good as March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, the amazing young actress from THESE FINAL HOURS—an Australian end-of-the-world flick available on Netflix) (hint, hint) wants them to aspire to be.
The film is chock full of sarcasm and dark humor. Some of the best bits involve our two heroes responding to a particular situation the way any selfish cad would. If anything, Black is never all that kind to his main characters; he exploits their weaknesses, guiding them toward some sense of resolution that sometimes feels rather unfulfilling. And there are still some familiar scenarios which hint at prior works, almost as if he is giving himself a nod. The foul-mouthed daughter from BOYSCOUT? There are traces of her in Holly. Remember Riggs from WEAPON, and the dead wife subplot? It’s here, too.
And the surprising thing is that Black has had this script for years. He re-worked it a few times, finally setting the film in the 1970’s. The era works well for the story, and allows for a few jokes that play on how things are now, compared to that bygone era of disco hair and questionable ethics (like those don’t exist today—hell, my hair gets bigger every stinkin’ time I wash it). So he had plenty of opportunity to wash away some of those repeated similarities and subplots.
Yet the one thing that works best, as it does in every Black odd couple film, is the casting of the leads. There is an undeniable chemistry between Gosling and Crowe, which drives the film. Sometimes you don’t really care what’s going on with the plot, so long as you get to keep watching them interact with each other. And Rice is a wonderful accompaniment to the testosterone-driven story. She is our moral check; our guide to what should be the right way to do things.
The other standout in this film is the charismatic vileness of Matt Bomer (“White Collar”, “American Horror Story”). As assassin “John Boy”, he is one of Black’s more insidious creations. His is the sobering presence in the film, the one that begs the viewer to start taking the fatalistic violence a bit more seriously.
This is an absolute necessity on Blu-ray; it is an action film, and the soundtrack is complimentary not only to the era in which the film takes place, but also to the story itself. And there are explosions, and lots of violence, and that always looks better in high definition! There are two making-of documentaries, and while they don’t tell you a whole lot about the filmmaking process, they do exactly what they need to: tell you how this whole mess came together into such a nice, funny, bloody package.
Black’s last film was 2013’s IRON MAN 3; prior to that, he had taken an eight year vacation from Hollywood, possibly because of the lack-luster reception at the box office for KISS KISS—which was actually one of his best films. There are not many screenwriters in Hollywood that are capable of rehashing their own themes and still make them seem fresh. We should be thankful that Black gets back to basics here, as his next film is a reboot of the “Predator” series, and Predators tend not to bumble. Or crack wise. Or lock their kid in the trunk…
Special Features: B
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freakin’-lutely.
-- T.S. Kummelman