Saturday, May 21, 2016

Movie Review: The Nice Guys

The best thing about The Nice Guys is also its main flaw - this is a Shane Black movie. And, if we're going to be perfectly honest, his films are getting a bit redundant. Granted, redundancy is more forgivable when it's something worthwhile being repeated, but even so, I just couldn't shake the feeling I've seen this movie before.

Black clearly has a solid formula he likes working with. Almost every script he's written is a noir action/comedy revolving around two men who need to overcome their differences and their personal demons to solve a complex mystery. His movies almost always include a child who's unusually competent, and they typically amass a sizable body count of attractive young women in over their heads.

Just to reiterate, they're also always good. And The Nice Guys is no exception. The leads do fantastic work, the characters are great, the kid is awesome, and the 70's setting offers a much appreciated deviation. Plus the jokes are hilarious, and the mystery offers a good number of twists. This is a fun, complex movie with layers of thought. I caught dozens of side jokes and references, and I suspect I missed countless more.

But the caveat remains. I keep feeling like Black's spent most of his career revising and reusing the same ideas he put into Lethal Weapon. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but personally, I'd like to see him show a little more range. I'm glad the next two projects he's working on are Predator and Doc Savage: it's well past time he put his genius to work in other genres (and let's hope he actually does other genres this time - I like Iron Man 3 quite a bit, but it was still a noir action/comedy).

This movie - and maybe Black's career in general - has a somewhat mixed relationship with women. He's done a great job writing strong, interesting female characters. Angourie Rice plays Gosling's daughter in this, and she's probably the most consistently effective character in the entire movie. Likewise, there are some cool female villains, and even the movie's damsel is anything but passive.

But for better and worse, Black is very committed to the conventions of noir. The world of The Nice Guys contains a clear schism between noble innocence and corruption. The former, represented only by Rice's character, can do no wrong. In contrast, every single other woman given more than a few seconds of screen time is either revealed to be mentally unbalanced or evil. And quite a few of them die to move the plot forward. The movie opens with a brilliantly shot sequence examining how a woman's death impacts a young boy. I think the scene was moving and considered; there's an incredible depth of thought given to this moment. But the fact remains it's still all about how men see women.

I don't want to be unfair here - the men in this movie are are pretty consistently corrupted, too (the only innocent, idealistic character is that little girl), and there's a real argument to be made that he's justified in respecting the traditions of the genre. But, right or wrong, he doesn't leave the genre's tropes behind.

I don't think this is a major problem here. Aside from one random shooting with no consequences (you'll know it when you see it - it's significant in the moment, then never even mentioned again), the deaths are at least justified by moving the story forward. There's also one choice Black could have made differently in the resolution that would have at least started to bridge the innocent/corrupted schism and added in a nice twist, as well, but I won't dwell on one missed opportunity.

I hope I didn't overbalance the positive aspects of this movie while discussing my reservations. This was a great comedy/noir: if you're a fan of Shane Black's work, rest assured this is yet another wonderful installment. I had a lot of fun with this movie, as did my wife.

It isn't quite as good as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but The Nice Guy's lighter tone might make for a slightly more fun Friday or Saturday night movie.

Is this really something you need to see in the theater, though? That's a little harder to answer. If you love the genre, absolutely. But, if you don't feel like you missed much waiting for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to hit DVD, you can probably make the same call this time.

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