The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★★★★

Remember hilarious banter? Remember brutal violence? Remember character development? Remember tits? If so, then you've probably been starving for something like "The Nice Guys", a movie that blasts through the standard, comic-book summer movie landscape like a grizzly bear through a toddler's birthday party. I didn't realize how much I wanted a movie like "The Nice Guys" until it started washing over me, and then I was having an absolute blast.

The moment that the 70's style credits flow over the screen accompanied by the glorious "waka-cha-waka" opening riff of The Temptations's "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", I was immediately grooving to this movie's distinctive, funky vibe. Director Shane Black carefully builds this world. He sets the vibe, then effortlessly establishes the setting and then fills it with vibrant, carefully constructed characters. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) are men with strengths and failings, men with their own unique patterns of speech, their own viewpoints on the world, their own vices and rich, inner emotional lives. These are men, not characters. They have history, not backstory.

The sleazy, glitzy 70's Hollywood of "The Nice Guys" is richly detailed, believable, and feels lived in. And the mystery that plays out against this backdrop, the one being solved by affable alcoholic doofus March and morally-conflicted bruiser Healy, is unpredictable, complex and gives the film genuine weight. A lot of people on here have been complaining that this movie isn't as good as Shane Black's previous detective yarn, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". I actually found this to be the better film. I liked the characters more, thought they were imbued with a lot more pain and complexity, and I definitely preferred the mystery being unraveled in "The Nice Guys". Frankly, I don't even remember what the central mystery of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" even was. In fact, I found it hard to recall or care about while watching that film (which wasn't a big deal, I was still enjoying "Kiss Kiss" immensely despite that fact) whereas in this one I was always interested in the mystery and yearning to see its resolution. "Kiss Kiss" emphasized snappy banter and clever detective story deconstruction at the cost of its plot. "The Nice Guys" balances all of these elements in a much better way, each of these elements complements the others and enhances them. "Kiss Kiss" felt light, frothy. "The Nice Guys" takes that extraordinary banter that made "Kiss Kiss" so delightful and adds in the brutality, excitement and emotional/narrative weight that made Black's early screenplays for "Lethal Weapon" and "Last Boy Scout" so incredible. "Kiss Kiss" felt like Black-Lite to me. "The Nice Guys" feels like a real Shane Black screenplay, on the same level with "Lethal Weapon".

But, most importantly, "The Nice Guys" is utterly hilarious. Black blends his usual tough guy banter (no one in the business does this sort of thing better) with a real gift for slapstick, visual gags and situational humor. Whatever tickles your funny bone, you're sure to find a lot of it in "The Nice Guys". I laughed a lot more often and a lot harder here than I did in the fun but overrated "Deadpool". You want to see what a really brutal, hilarious, hard-R rated action movie looks like? Skip "Deadpool" and watch this instead. "Deadpool" never seemed to take anything seriously. There are a lot of jokes inherent in the situations depicted in "The Nice Guys", but the movie itself never reduces those situations to jokes. You never forget that lives are on the line, and every death leaves a sting in this movie. Every life onscreen matters, even those of the villains. That's what gives this movie weight, more weight than most of the disposable action movies served up to us nowadays. The characters matter, the plot matters, and that makes the jokes matter even more. The jokes are precisely the leavening agent that this story needs because, frankly, without them, this movie would be pretty damned dark. It's astounding how much fun this film is considering how bleak so much of it really is. It's like "Chinatown" if Jake Gittes had been replaced with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Gosling and Crowe have great chemistry together. I'm talking Gibson/Glover, Newman/Redford chemistry here. No one writes banter like Black, but the delivery of said banter is just as important, and I can think of no one who would have delivered this snappy patter as effectively as Crowe and Gosling. They're so good that I want a "Nice Guys 2" more than I've wanted any sequel in quite some time (title idea: "Nice Guys Finish Last"). But their characters have a different dynamic than Riggs and Murtagh or Butch and Sundance. You've got a bruiser and a drunk, two men who've screwed up their lives in fundamental ways who are possibly the worst two people to unravel the complex conspiracy at the heart of this film. But, unfortunately for everyone in the world of the film but fortunately for us, they're the only guys doing it. I also loved that they're not your standard action heroes. They don't swagger into a roomful of bad guys and take them all down. They get wounded, they fail, they sometimes see a situation beyond their skills and instead of attacking anyway they turn and run, as real human beings would do. That's what made this movie so great, IMO. For all of its silliness and humor, it's got some moments as realistic as anything I've seen in this sort of film.

What else works? Pretty much everything, actually. The icy yet boyishly handsome hit man played by Matt Bomer is a straight up psychopath, and a formidable adversary for our heroes. In fact, he's so intimidating that you always doubt the heroes will be able to defeat him. And the real heart of the movie has to be Angourie Rice as Gosling's highly intelligent daughter, Holly. She's fantastic here, giving the movie a slight "Veronica Mars" vibe. She's convincingly smart, defiant and capable. She's also delightfully sweet. You can see why Crowe's character would be so charmed by her. And the late-Seventies soundtrack is absolutely pitch perfect at every moment.

Frankly, I can't think of a single thing I would change about "The Nice Guys". Five stars might seem a little strong, but isn't that what you're supposed to rate a film that you can't find a flaw with? "The Nice Guys" is a one-of-a-kind film, not quite like anything else I've seen. It reminded me a bit of "Inherent Vice", but it's better. It's more playful than that film, takes itself less seriously, and has a better plot and characters. It's the kind of film they just don't make anymore, and you won't realize how much you've missed this sort of movie until you see it. It's the kind of movie that makes you want to turn around and walk back into it the moment it's over. "The Nice Guys" is bad-ass, hilarious, funky perfection. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it's definitely mine, and I can't think of a recent movie I thought was so immediately underappreciated.

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