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Not so ‘Nice Guys’ in Action

Just to be clear, the leading characters in this violent action-comedy are anything but nice. That’s the level of humor in The Nice Guys, the latest endeavor from Shane Black, whose Lethal Weapon helped make him the hottest screenwriter in Hollywood thirty years ago. This movie is more on the level of Black’s directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an overblown L.A. action yarn with a smartass sense of humor.

What makes this movie tolerable and even enjoyable at times is the rapport between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, as a pair of low-rent private detectives who get more than they bargained for while tracing the murder of a porn actress named Misty Mountains. It seems that Misty’s personal and professional ties involve powerful people who don’t want anyone examining their very dirty laundry.

Ryan Gosling-Russell Crowe-TNG-680

Photo by Daniel McFadden – Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Frankly, neither do I. The Nice Guys is watchable enough, with a nonstop flow of wisecracks and a reasonable evocation of Los Angeles in 1977. (The period setting also relieves Black of having to deal with such modern-day distractions as cell phones and texting.) But it goes on too long for such a trivial story and doesn’t add up to much. It’s hard to care about the mystery angle at all, let alone its resolution.

Still, it’s fun to watch Crowe and Gosling, who seem cheerfully relaxed in their roles, and newcomer Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling’s precocious 13-year-old daughter. And I can’t completely dismiss a movie that evokes the memory of Lou Costello. But these fleeting pleasures don’t constitute a satisfying experience. Moviegoers who are desperate for escapism may find it good enough. I didn’t.

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Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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