The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★★½

"Oh no, your yoo-hoo!" I said out loud with genuine concern at one point during this movie. Maybe it was the cottonmouth talking?

Sooo I can be a bit of a sucker for reference humor when it's done right. Big surprise, eh? As you can imagine then I was absolutely loving the first half of The Nice Guys and its abundance of amusing period details relevant to life in 70's LA: newspaper stories about the infamous wave of killer bees that were set to take over the US any day now (but only ever succeeded during that decade in overtaking Saturday Night Live); the familiar names decorating the marquee for what was probably an average weekly line-up at The Comedy Store; the insane burst of vehicular mayhem that descends on a kid at home while he's sneaking a peek at Cavalier, a skin mag best known to many of us as the first outlet to regularly publish stories by Stephen King… for a while the film was capably establishing itself as a smart, thoughtful, carefully-crafted comedy that uses sharp dialogue, dark humor, and historical savvy to speak to some of the ugly truths in our culture from both yesterday and today.

But that all made it especially sad when halfway through the runtime the movie seemed to lose its steam, with the cleverness and originality taking a backseat to the repetition of running jokes and making sure the film hits a lot of the standard beats of this type of action-comedy outing. There was still some thoughtfulness on display and plenty of moments that popped and shocked but the overarching brilliant flow was gone, and some of the running jokes/themes (like the one about how much more mature kids were in the 70s) really stopped working for me and started to make the film feel cringe-inducingly false. I can see why some people might get a real kick out of those particular dynamics--especially with a cast as likable and talented as this one--but it just didn't jive with me after a certain point. I don't know if I needed this film to be more cynical or less, but I do know that I needed a second half that delivered more on the promise of the first.

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