The Nice Guys

Holland March: Munich.

Jackson Healy: What?

Holland March: Guy without his balls. A Munich.

Jackson Healy: Munich, is a city in Germany, Munich. München.

Holland March: You sure?

Jackson Healy: My dad was stationed there.

Holland March: Right. Hitler only had one ball.

1977 was not a great year. Many would say it was an abysmal decade but that has not stopped the 70s becoming the subject of pointless nostalgia, largely amongst those who were not there to experience the 70s first hand.

Granted some great music and movies were made (along with much bad music and some real turkeys on the big screen), but we are now in the era where the decade can be celebrated and satirised. Boogie Nights  started the trend, American Hustle followed it up later, and many more came along for the ride, but The Nice Guys is the latest in line, perhaps looking long in the tooth for its choice of subject matter, by which I mean that taking pot shots at the 70s LA is lazy cinema and way too easy a target.

The movie shots start with a murder victim being a silicon-breasted porn queen called “Misty Mountains” careering down a bank and through a flimsily-built house in the hillier parts of LA.  The 70s porn industry is of course one movie cliche with which to stereotype the 70s, though here the stereotypes and clichés come thick and fast.

Having grown up in that decade, most make me shudder at the memory of 70s US TV programmes like Happy Days and The Waltons (the latter is extensively referenced here) among many more, I have not the slightest wish to relive my teenage years.  In fact, even the multi-line font and garish colour used in the poster would put me off, though I’m glad I persevered.

The redemption for TNG is by virtue of a sparky script by director Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, which achieves that rare thing in comedies these days, being on occasions genuinely funny (providing this kind of humour is what grabs you by the short-and-curlies.)  This is not to say the standard is consistent throughout, but does hit greater heights than most alleged comedies, for which small mercy we should be thankful.

The plot is at once quite detailed for what is essentially a knockabout spoof thriller, but equally it is nonsense that you could safely ignore and allow it all to wash over you.  Suffice it to say the genre is akin to the odd couple investigating murders and the disappearance of a woman who seems to be connected and who is being chased by everyone and his dog.

The fact that every road leads back to the motor industry and the suppression of the impact of pollution by motor vehicles brings us right up to the present as a reminder of Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate control accords, though also reminds us of the denial and suppression of the truth of links between smoking and lung cancer for decades, courtesy of the tobacco industry.

Star of the show?  Not chain-smoking chain-driving nerdish loser of a PI, Holland March, played with deliberate sloppiness by Ryan Gosling, or Russell Crowe‘s growling “enforcer” (whatever that is), Jackson Healy – nor indeed Kim Basinger‘s perfunctory and monotonal Head of Justice Judith Kutner.  Not even a veritable shoal of villains, arriving in various teams to beat people up, attempt to steal the elusive protagonist or generally cause mayhem, deliver the goods.

No, Angourie Rice as March’s infinitely sensible and resourceful 13 year old daughter Holly unquestionably steals every scene she is in, quite apart from the writers’ intention that she does so – she is the best actor on display, with not a hint of the hamminess afflicting Gosling and Crowe.   There is something of that nature about every chalk-and-cheese buddies-investigating-a-mystery movie, possibly because the stars are drinking solidly between takes (not that I am accusing the stars here but you’ve all seen movies where the top two look like they are pissed as farts!) or because they can’t be arsed to put in the effort required to deliver bravura acting with depth and breadth.  These struck me as paycheck performances, though others may disagree.

The film does at least look authentic, which is to say that the research is good and nothing looks out of place for a 1970s movie.

All told, The Nice Guys they are not, since they are as guilty as any of the baddies at inflicting wanton violence (particularly Crowe’s Healy, though he is roundly shamed by Holly at one point to the point of lying about having killed a baddy), but their tale is for the most part easy viewing and likeable in a knowingly smug sort of way.  That faintly obnoxious attitude alone would put off some viewers, but most would consider it worthy for the odd good punchline and a faintly ridiculous sendup of the sort of show we all took terribly seriously way back in the 70s.

It held its own at the box office but not much more. The critics were relatively kind (see below) and reaction on Netflix seems reasonable.   Right, that’s done.  Can we now stay firmly in the 21st Century a while?  Thank you.

The Nice Guys received positive reviews from critics.[4] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 92% based on 261 reviews, with an average score of 7.5/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “The Nice Guys hearkens back to the buddy comedies of a bygone era while adding something extra courtesy of a knowing script and the irresistible chemistry of its leads.”[32] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 70 out of 100, based on 51 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.[33] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B–” on an A+ to F scale.[30]

Mike Ryan of Uproxx gave the film a positive review, praising Black’s writing, and saying: “If you like Shane Black, you will like The Nice Guys. It’s probably the Shane Black-est of all the Shane Black movies. Black has a knack for turning action movie expectations on their head mixed with knowing and rich dialogue.”[34] IGN gave the film a 9/10, writing, “Working from a tight and sharp script that perfectly balances the characters like a yin and yang of screw-ups ensures The Nice Guys is an absolute joy every step of the way.”[35] Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times gave 3 stars out 4 and wrote, “Forget about Kevin Hart and Ice Cube in Ride Along 2, or Zac Efron and Robert De Niro in Dirty Grandpa, or Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in Zoolander 2. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are the funniest duo of the year so far in The Nice Guys“.[36] James Berardinelli described the film as the 1970 version of Boogie Nights. Berardinelli wrote, “The Nice Guys is a refreshingly adult movie entering a marketplace saturated by teen-friendly superhero flicks and animated family fare. It’s edgy (although not so edgy that it will turn off a mass market audience), funny, and fast-paced”, and he gave a score of 3 out of 4.[37]

On the other hand, Rex Reed of New York Observer gave a score of 0 and he felt that the film is “another sub-mental movie for morons churned out by the kind of sophomoric Hollywood machine that trademarks the works of Judd Apatow & Co.”[38] A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that the film lacks wistful, slyly political sense of history that Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice had. Scott wrote, “Even nostalgic nonsense requires more than attitude and energy, which is all that Mr. Black has to offer. And despite all its restless detective work, The Nice Guys is unable to track down a soul or a reason for being.”[39] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “That the film mostly falls flat has far more to do with the largely unconvincing material rather than with the co-stars, who are more than game for the often clownish shenanigans Black and his co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi have concocted for them; in fit and starts, the actors display a buoyant comic rapport.” McCarthy, however, praised the production design (by Richard Bridgland) and costume design (by Kym Barrett) due to their “vivid reminders of how much L.A. has spruced itself up over the past 40 years”; and the cinematography (by Philippe Rousselot) due to “the figurative and possibly even literal use of a smog filter to evoke a physically and morally toxic environment.”[40]

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