Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Nice Guys

Tell me if you've heard this before: a lazy and perpetually intoxicated detective figure in Hollywood, a gruff partner who does not let aggression stand, a missing young woman whose family is hiding something, corrupt businessmen, threats and talks of castration, some bohemian hippy types, and a trip through the world of pornography.

You're right; those are elements of The Big Lebowski. They're also the elements of The Nice Guys (2016), directed by Shane Black, who ramps up the action, dials down the surreal weirdness of the Coen Brothers, and places more emphasis on the plot. Imagine if the Dude had a 13-year-old daughter and a job and Walter Sobchak was more calm and competent, and you'll have a good idea of what The Nice Guys is all about. It establishes its own quirky identity and packs plenty of laughs.

Our heroes are a couple of 1970s L.A. private detectives: Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a boozing widower with a 13-year-old daughter named Holly (Angourie Rice), and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), an enforcer who uses brass knuckles to beat up people. One of the movie's inspirations is how March is the jerk and Healy is a calm, rather polite professional. They meet when Healy is paid to get March to stop following Amelia (Margaret Qualley). As he beats him up, Healy even tells March which arm bone to tell the doctor is broken. When he leaves, Healy accepts a Yoo-hoo from Holly and genuinely enjoys it.

Things get twisted when Amelia disappears and a couple of thugs (including Keith David) attempt to torture Healy for information about her whereabouts. So, Healy and March reluctantly team up to locate Amelia and get to the bottom of what's going on. It all leads to Amelia's mother Judith (Kim Basinger), a top Justice Department Official; a porn producer; some environmental protesters complaining about smog; and some dealings with Detroit's Big Three Auto producers. And of course, Holly inserts herself into the mix.

Fundamentally, The Nice Guys is a buddy cop movie. Two mismatched partners are forced to team up to take down the bad guys, and over the course of the movie, they grow to respect and even like each other. A movie like this depends on the chemistry of leads, and Gosling and Crowe have great chemistry.

March is the kind of guy who won't say no free alcohol while staking out a wild party at the porn producer's mansion and ends up swimming in the pool with the porn star mermaids, but he's just good enough as a detective to be believable. Healy is focused and wants to do the right thing, but he gets his hands dirty and doesn't shy away from being violent. They both make mistakes, they both cause trouble, and deep down, despite the sleazy nature of their work, they're both nice guys. Holly sees the good in both and tries to get them to be that way.

The plot's not too original, but Black knows how to balance the comedy with high stakes. The movie knows when it's time to get serious (but not too serious). Amelia is terrified for her life, and Holly is smart enough to realize when she's walked into a dangerous situation. Shootouts occurs, blood flies, bones break, etc. The action scenes are nothing too special in a post John Wick world, but they get the job done.

Black also includes some inspired hallucinatory weirdness. When Healy approaches March with the offer to team up, it's in the bathroom of the bowling alley where Holly's birthday party is being held, and March is sitting on a toilet; he tries to keep a gun drawn on Healy while failing to keep the stall door open. Later, March falls asleep at the wheel and has a talk with a giant, talking, smoking bee in the back seat (that scene actually pays off twice in the plot, so it's not completely random).

And now, I'm suddenly craving some Yoo-hoo.

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