Friday, May 20, 2016

Shane Black's THE NICE GUYS

You know, the real key to The Nice Guys, underneath the sleaze and the booze and the porn and 70's disco and funk (not unexpected but cool tracks all the same line much of the film when it's not John Ottman's typical 70's mystery score) and the two leads (who I'll get to momentary), is the role of Holly and Angourie Rice's performance.  I'm not familiar with this actress, but she really holds up as a bright spot of this movie, as something that may be necessary at times - the heart to contrast with the continuous, bile-like sarcasm from Gosling's character (Holly's dad) - and yet she's also at times solving the case or coming up with clues when the other two guys are smashing heads or falling off ledges.

It may seem like a cliche to have the younger, more industrious and clever(er) character, but it would be much more cliche if she was a young damsel in distress or a plot contrivance.  She's actually part of the narrative and takes an active role in it; if there's ever a sequel to this, I'd like to see her part of her dad's detective business, and I think Rice would still fit well as an actress who seems sharp and smart in this kind of role (also as the conscience of the film).

But on to the rest of the movie: this is a lot of fun.  It's not too much more or less than that, though it occasionally makes passing motions for the former.  A number of reviews can't help but compare it to other windy LA mystery-detective yarns (or what I would call especially in this case a Shaggy Dog story, of which Big Lebowski was the shaggiest), especially Inherent Vice and Chinatown. 

The former I can see because of the decade similarity and the sleazy overtones (or just what is uncovered) and the obtuse dealings and conspiratorial things of Chinatown.  But Black, even more than those other films and their directors, could give a rat's ass about the plot.  It's there and there are lots of twists and turns and u-turns and un-broken K-turns into WTF territory (and often it involves some cartoonish - or actual heavy - violence, at least of the 'movie' kind where you can have some distance usually). 

This is most of all a character piece, and a showcase for the actors, and if there's things to uncover in the story it's mostly as a means to have more things for Crowe and Gosling to react to in their deadpan/wild-wisecracky ways.  And for what Black asks of his two leads there's real inspired comic reactions and chemistry, mostly because it's two characters who start off with one beating up the other for information.  How they end up together makes it more tumultuous than the typical 'buddy-cop' scenario since the Private-Eye-And-Beat-Em-Up-Thug combo is more unpredictable - or, it IS predictable, but in some entertaining occurances (i.e. that scene where they ask the bartender for information, you know Crowe's going to slam the guy's head into the wood, and then his remark is thus: "We can do this the easy way, or... actually, that *is* the easy way").

Crowe hasn't been this on spot as a comic presence in a long time (hell, when was the last time he was funny in a movie - Virtuosity in 1995?  Someone help me with that).  And it's not the usual tough guy shtick all the time, in fact it feels like he took the part so he could send it up just a bit, while still walking that line between doing bad-ass things.  It's LA Confidential too (Kim Basinger is Noah Cross basically, I'm serious, and it f***ing works!) while you also have Gosling there as the real punching bag, the "Worst Detective in the World" as he gets dubbed by his non-plussed daughter. 

Gosling and Crowe are on a level playing field so there's no choosing really who's *better*, though I feel like Gosling is sharper at the little comic beats, adding in little moments that give us cues to the fact that he's maybe brighter or more on top than he lets on - or, on the flip-side, is even more worse off than we think from all the booze.  Even the level of alcohol intake is a hilarious send up of countless P.I. flicks and books where it seems like liquor gets knocked back like water.  Here, when Gosling just has one too many drinks (as if, as usual in a movie like the porno party they go to with all the inspired wackiness and women as mermaids in see-through pools and people used as living-bent-over statues), it shows and he suffers for it.

If there's any major issue it's that by the time Black has to wrap up his story in the final fifteen minutes - this coming after a rather intense shoot-out that nears over the top territory with the unbreakable thug "Dr. Malick" (sounds like someone from a Bond flick) - then it gets into over-drive and, even with everything that's happened, becomes a little too much as far as what to do with the MacGuffin of the piece (and it IS an extremely clever MacGuffin, but almost too jokey if that makes sense).  And a particular character shows up for just a couple of scenes, the Emilia that our (anti)heroes are after for the majority, and that was the one actor I didn't buy or wasn't convincing, or it may have been her dialog as well, but the actress (Qualley) only marginally sells it.  But, again, who cares about plot when you have such rich dialog to play around with?

 In that sense Black has a success with a grimier, trying-to-be-punchier Big Sleep, and I mean the Hawks movie more than the book; it's less about how to get from A to B to F to Z in the story than it is how Crowe gives Gosling a particular look, or the reaction everyone has in the room when Holly tries to out-smart a thug and it luck has it that she is successful at her out-smarting.  As far as nasty, hard-R rated romps through 1977 underworld LA, it's a big fat adult comic book that loves stylized moviemaking that pauses a little to question its tough-guy conventions (though maybe not enough to be totally great).

PS: This guy is in the movie, and even as he's playing a hired thug... it's Keith fuckin David. 

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