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The Nice Guiys (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley

Written By: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi Directed By: Shane Black

The Shot

Shane Black turns the classic LA noir story on its ear by turning it into a dark comedy set in the seedier corners of the swinging 1970s.  The Nice Guys is fun, but sometimes it wallows too much in its own shadows, and its leading man too much in his own pathos.  Still worth the look and the laugh, though.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Kinda fun.  It has a place on the party tray.

Pairs Well With...


Hel-lo, 70s!  And I do mean the seedy side.

“You fell, didn’t you?”

I’ll start by saying this: I like The Nice Guys, and I’m glad I saw it in a theatre.  I wanted to love it, but…

In interviews, Shane Black has described his approach to comedic filmmaking as making sure that there’s a good dramatic story there first, and putting the comedy on top of that.  It’s not a bad philosophy, really, and its application is very much apparent in The Nice Guys. Yes, there are many laughs to be had, but the story definitely comes first.

The thing is… it’s a pretty bleak story, set in the very seediest version of swinging 1970s Los Angeles that Shane Black and his creative team could come up with, and as a director, Black takes every opportunity to emphasize the bleakness and the seediness.  And so, even though I laughed quite bit during the course of The Nice Guys, the darker portions of the drama took some wind from the comedic sails, and the leading man… well, we’ll get to him in a minute.  Let’s just say that once the end credits were finished rolling, I left the theatre wondering if maybe the studio shouldn’t have (very heavily) marketed The Nice Guys as a first-and-foremost comedy.

Taken for what it is, the plot of The Nice Guys is in fact quite brilliant, to the point where I can’t fully explain why without giving away some wonderful surprises.  Indeed, it’s almost too much to say that it’s an ingenious twist on The Classic LA Noir story, set atop a murder mystery involving a porn actress.  It’s obviously been crafted with care, and every twist is well timed and perfectly executed.  The seedy atmosphere only serves to enhance the story, with polyester and the decadent porn life serving the same function that trenchcoats and fog used to back in the day.  Even a significant number of shots being filmed under direct sunlight can’t kill the inherent noir grit of this screenplay.

The fact that the moral (and intellectual) center of a story this seedy is a thirteen year old girl (fantastically played by Angourie Rice, by the way) is almost disturbingly poignant, because however Inspector Gadget the circumstance may be (whether or not that reference was intentional, it struck me immediately and never went away), let’s face it: a thirteen year old girl does not belong in this world.  But then again, I think that’s the point that Shane Black and company are trying to make: no one belongs in this world.  That, and the age-old standby of decent people everywhere that reads “don’t hurt little girls,” which one of our heroes quotes verbatim on more than one occasion.

That hero is Healy, a heavy-for-hire played with way more depth than one might expect from a marketed comedy by Russell Crowe (who in turn channels a fair share of himself from days gone by in LA Confidential).  Healy is cut from the old fashioned noir template of “thug with a heart of gold,” and there’s lots of potential for the character to reach the next level, but every time the script threatens to deliver on the depth promised by Crowe’s performance, it inexplicably backs away, which is just plain frustrating (and renders an entire subplot moot, to boot).  Even more frustrating, however, is Healy’s unintended partner, Holland, played by Ryan Gosling.  Holland is a pathos-magnified riff on the classic TV character Jim Rockford (a fact likely to be lost on 95% of the modern viewing audience that has never seen or even heard of “The Rockford Files”), complete with the gun-in-the-cookie-jar routine.  Ostensibly, he’s the main hero that the audience is supposed to be cheering for, but frankly, the script just doesn’t support that.  Charismatic though Ryan Gosling may be, his character is pathetic, and throughout the course The Nice Guys, he never rises above that level.  He starts a loser, and finishes a loser (no matter what his hand tells him), and that, more than anything else, is what keeps me from being able to love this movie.  An avant garde amalgamation of bleak drama and comedy I could do, but a hero I can’t root for save out of pity for his thirteen year old kid?  Not so much.

But still… that is a brilliant plot being played out up there on that screen, and it is kinda fun to watch even amidst the bleakness.  So whatever reservations I may have about The Nice Guys, I can’t help but like it, and I am still glad that I caught it on the big screen the day it came out.  But I don’t think that it’s going to become a part of my permanent collection until it makes its way to the bargain bin, and that’s something I would not have expected to say going in.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2016

This review was written at a hotel bar.  It seemed appropriate.

More From The Bar! | Keanu | Miles Ahead | Death Race 2000 | The Accountant |

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