August 28, 2016
I never regret buying a physical movie but this is definitely not the best investment I ever made. Now that you probably hate me because I did not love this movie like everyone in the social networks, I thank you for not closing your browser. I shall start my review: The great 70s. Disco and funk going on, sideburns and afros, peace and love, strange and confused (I didn’t mean confusing) Hollywood movies, smoking the reefer, suits without ties with long sharp necks, leviathan console television sets, clunky shoes, Led Zeppelin. Sounds like a nice place doesn’t it? The Nice Guys is set on this time, 1977, in Los Angeles. It is your “I am a cool movie fan (and I always thought Russell Crowe was one of the great actors of his generation although for some reason I never said it to anyone before) and this is my kind of violent funny movie” movie. But more than that it’s a love letter to private detective movies like Chinatown, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Would Raymond Chandler be proud?
The movie makes its first move with a kid who is having a blast with a porn magazine in his house. Who the hell is he is a question everybody naturally asks. A car crashes into his house and destroys half of it. His parents are sleeping. We never see them wake up. The surprised boy goes out to see what just happened. He notices the words “Misty M” on the plates. The lady who was driving the car and is now dying, naked, strangely good looking (I’m no psychopath, just saying), and murmurs her last few words: “How do you like my car, big boy?” A scene that exits the story for a while and then cleverly comes back at some point in the story. Now we don’t know how long has passed but it is later revealed that the incident with the car was some weeks earlier than the movie main storyline. We get introduced to our two protagonists in a set of narrations.
Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, an overweight now-sober guy who means good but gets paid for fixing problems with violence and so on. Ryan Gosling is a fledgling alcoholic Doc Sportello without the weed/Philip Marlowe without the chessboard- private investigator with a big house full of empty beer bottles, a half-empty pool (“the world’s biggest ashtray”), and a sometimes nice, sometimes problematic daughter who aids the comedy (and some of the action) of the film, his name is Holland March. The first time they meet, Crowe breaks Gosling’s arm (I hereby establish that I will call the characters by their actors’ last name). This sets a long relationship between the two. They are linked to find this lady, Amelia, who seems to be involved in something big. They look for her in a public manifestation with people pretending they are dead. A projectionist tomfool boy, Chet, talks to them for twenty bucks. He’s trying to be funny like everyone else (and later gets his ass seriously kicked for aiding this two. Poor Chet).
We go to a drive in Chinatown, an obvious reference here (Chinatown has been referenced in popular movies two years in a row now, last year’s being Inside-Out) to see a place of evidence. Some other “Films set in LA” references are the porno business (Boogie Nights) and the use of the word “dude” plenty of times in a scene (The Big Lebowski), plus, non-LA, a quick glance at a Jaws 2 billboard. There might be more that I missed. When they arrive to a pornstar party, the movie explodes for about half an hour into a long action scene throwing jokes here and there in a party scene that leaves much to be desired. A funny bit here is when they throw a corpse through a fence and lands in a garden dinner table with bourgeois people hanging out. They later get hired by Amelia’s mother, who works in the Justice Department to get an eye on her, your dose of mother and daughter unlikeness. The ‘long-awaited’ partnership starts here although it’s present during the whole film.
The second half actually gets better. There’s a hysterical conversation in a hotel bar between Crowe and Gosling arguing wether they should go into an elevator or not. Amelia falls in their car, exactly as it sounds, and gives them this typical argument (trying so hard to mimic the face expressions of a Coen Brothers character) that her mother is a corporate evil and she is just trying to make art, not porno. Is she lying? Maybe. But why are they trying to kill her? They receive a call and they now have to deliver some money. Our characters set into this last impending journey into the unknown that resolutes with blatant discoveries with, somewhere on the road, a surreal dream sequence (Naked Lunch?), and a crazy mercenary. We also get to know what happened to the artsy/porno lost film. Blended with an LA detective score that offers nothing new but certainly fits well with the movie, the action-packed ending scene and expected resolution makes this movie a story bolstered with cheap laughters and forlorn methods of visual strike.
A big problem with the film is the vast quantity of character cliché: The alcoholic detective, the grunt who has a resume full of violence but deep inside is trying to reform himself, the rebellious sensual daughter whose mom has a good chair in the government and, therefore, to embarrass her, she becomes a pornstar, the paid mercenary good-looking sociopath with leather gloves, and your Coffy-like African American lady killer. The latter is alright (she is in probably the funniest scene in the movie at a hotel room near the end). It just needed the freaking smart white-with-a-black-stain-in-the-eye dog that saves the day in the end or something. They seem to be directed well by Shane Black, whose Kiss Kiss Bang Bang remains his masterpiece, and the performances were quite amusing but the characters offered nothing new. And being a homage to old movies is not an excuse. Films like Inglorious Basterds (War) or Y Tu Mama Tambien (Road) do the same tribute to a certain genre and still are full of unique characters.
But I am just giving it a hard time. It is indeed one of the decent films of the year, but not a great one. It has plenty of cool violence; Crowe dodges a shot and a lady in the next house takes the bullet and doesn’t get in trouble for it, for example. There are some comic Yoo-Hoo references (or maybe mere marketing). Crowe mentions he hasn’t drank one since at least 30 years (a vintage drink indeed). The line uttered by Gosling: “Jesus tap-dancing Christ!” I am not sure if it was borrowed but made me chuckle. Gosling being an asshole works in general while a drawing of a duck in his cast makes him look silly. Like I said early, there are many scenes that try too hard to be funny and fail. I fucking particularly hated a part in the party scene when Ryan Gosling appears in the background swimming in the pool following the sirens. Also the, “How did you know my name was Buddy?” part was rather annoying. And that Nixon bit was good when they talked about it but when we actually see him, after that vertiginous fall in the pool that doesn’t hold a grain of truth realistically, it turns into a pointless joke.
Overall, on the entertainment department, the movie wins. It has a couple nice songs too, and the story is well structured with the action never stopping and surprises coming in one a time. Opponents may say that the humor was outstanding and I am a complete idiot without a sense of one. While it is true that some of the jokes’ pace flows well and the timing is good and all, some other times they sound/look like unnecessary crap. And don’t tell me it’s because I didn’t get the satire. Please don’t even try. By the way, there’s a notion that there might be a sequel, so brace yourselves. The nice guys is a solid piece of film that might age as “that movie that made tribute to old private detective movies that shaped cinema in the 20th century.” Like both characters say in the movie: “The sun went up, the sun went down. Nothing changes.” That’s probably the case when you finish watching this one. See it with friends and family and have a fun time and stuff.