The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★★

A decent retro buddy comedy, although I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to get on the Shane Black bandwagon, despite Entertainment Weekly telling me he's a "full-on auteur." Sure, I'm missing a huge chunk of the guy's filmography—The Nice Guys is the first Black-related project I've seen since Lethal Weapon 4, Hollywood's 1998 treatise on dead horse-flogging—but "auteur" comes across a bit lofty, seeing as how roughly 90 percent of his work seems based around the well-established buddy comedy outline. (I know, he helped define this framework, but still.) Don't get me wrong; I dig the dynamic between Gosling and Crowe, entrenched in archetype as it may be. But there's definite repetition going on within Black's career; it's a fairly straight path from Riggs and Murtaugh to March and Healy, one that makes me question whether the glowing reviews for The Nice Guys owe as much to the film itself as to the potent boy-they-sure-don't-make-'em-like-this-anymore nostalgia tickle it evokes.

Less endearing is Black's use of precocious kids in the movie, since they're based more upon a 54-year-old screenwriter's concept of what children are like than in any recognizable childlike behavior. Yeah, there's valuable shock humor to be mined from wee ones talking about big dicks and whores and anal, but eventually the jolt wears off and you're left with a PG-level sidekick futzing about in a Hard-R movie, adding a weird Johnny Quest-ish vibe I don't quite want in my comic noirs about the seedy underbelly of the late-70s L.A. porn industry. I'll spot you that Angourie Rice is great as March's daughter Holly—not once did I pick up that she's an Australian doing an American accent—but there's only so many oh-hey-my-baby's-in-trouble sequences you can take before you want the kid to get shipped off to Grandma's house so the adults can finish shooting guns at one another.

Still, Gosling and Crowe have solid chemistry, sufficient to make me wish the film had done well enough to prompt a sequel (the $50 million budget was kind of a surprise; who knew retro movie billboards and a CGI crumbling Hollywood sign could be so expensive.) And, even if the script could've used a little polish (interchanging two words in the line "you made a porno where the plot is the point" would've kept it from bugging the shit out of me), The Nice Guys wisely never delves too far into its cockamamie central mystery, keeping us distracted with comic violence and some primo Keith David appearances. Plus, with this year's onslaught of movies where frenemies punch the living shit out of each other, it's nice to see it being done here between guys not wearing superhero tights. (Thank god, because Russell Crowe in spandex would push this film into straight-up body horror.)

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