The Nice Guys(2016): Shane Black keeps kicking ass & taking names The Nice Guys(2016): Shane Black keeps kicking ass & taking names
IAB returns from his holiday by taking a look at the funniest movie of the year; Shane Black's "The Nice Guys" The Nice Guys(2016): Shane Black keeps kicking ass & taking names

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The Nice Guys(2016)
Written & Directed by Shane Black

Hi, after a brief summer hiatus yours truly is making a triumphant return at typing his crazy ramblings. What did I do in that hiatus, you may ask? Well, I was relaxing, reading a few books, doing all sorts of relaxing yard-work with an axe an other power-tools (in the process improving my tan from “translucent” into a “palish pink”), walking in nature and of course – watching a lot of movies (both new and olde) and bingeing one TV-show(“Stranger Things”).

It’s been a very interesting year in terms of new movies so far. I kinda feel that we have come upon something of a transformative year in the Huge Summer Blockbuster-type of films. Now – I have not seen nearly all of them so I can’t make any declaration of did some of them deserve their fates or not – but it seems that tides are definitely turning. I mean, a LOT of these major summer releases have just completely tanked at the box-office (“Independence Day: Resurgence”, “The BFG”, “The Legend of Tarzan”, “Ghostbusters”, “Star Trek Beyond”…even “Ice Age 5” clearly underperformed), and even some of those which actually MADE money have been of varying quality (the fact that “Batman V. Superman” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” made a lot of cash does not erase the fact that they are NOT good pictures!).

As a kinda “middle-ish year look-back”, I’m gonna give my current TOP-list of the best new movies I’ve seen this year:

  1. Zootopia
  2. Deadpool
  3. The Conjuring 2
  4. 10 Cloverfield Lane

(Captain America: Civil War was right up there, but to be all honest; while it was definitely the 2nd best superhero-movie of the year, it just wasn’t as good as The Winter Soldier)

Why only Top 4? Because I finally saw one movie that is going to make it a Top 5, that’s why. The one I’m talking about is of course Shane Black’s (“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”, “Iron Man 3”) new movie “The Nice Guys“, written and directed by the man himself and produced by the legendary Joel Silver (Google it up – too many titles to write up here) under his Silver Pictures banner. Silver and Black go waaaaaay back, of course, because it was really Silver who made Black such a writer superstar back in the 80’s after he bought Black’s “Lethal Weapon“-script for $250,000, which then led to even bigger paydays from “The Last Boy Scout“($1,750,000), “Last Action Hero“($1,000,000) and “The Long Kiss Goodnight“(the record-breaking $4,000,000). But – as much money he made from those projects, Black has always been very clear that every single one of those projects – even “Lethal Weapon” – went through several rewrites by other writers before/during the productions, and while SOME of his initial vision & dialogue is still there to be seen/heard, about as much (or even more) always went into the trash bin. So after “The Long Kiss Goodnight“, he kinda got burned by the Hollywood-machine and disappeared from the radar.

It was only when he got that coveted chance to do what everyone truly REALLY wants – to direct as well as write – that he made his triumphant return with the 2005 film “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (again, produced by Silver). That film was like a breath of fresh air – a pure, uncompromised Shane Black-story. And it was not only a comeback for him; it was also a comeback for Robert Downey jr., who had pretty much spent the 90’s and early 2000’s in-between drug-busts, rehab, more drug-busts and prison-terms. Naturally, as seems to be the case with all the really good movies, it flopped at the box-office. But the critics and the peers in the industry sure loved it, as did the most devoted fans. And it has had a pretty lucrative afterlife; after this movie, Downey hit the jackpot with the Marvel Studios and the “Iron Man“-series and when it was time to make a third film (after the much-maligned second film), he called out for his buddy Black to write and direct it. And the rest was history. “Iron Man 3” is currently at the 10th spot of the highest-grossing films of all time and in my books, in the Top 3 of the Marvel movies. Sure – it polarized the audiences a bit by going with some unconventional story choices. But here’s the thing I learned – especially after watching “The Nice Guys“:

In his craft, Shane Black really is ALL about unconventional story choices.

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The story of “The Nice Guys” is – on the surface – pretty much a traditional Film Noir-fare:

It’s 1977 in Los Angeles. A known pornstar by the name of Misty Mountains dies in a car accident. A few days later her aunt(Lois Smith) hires a hapless private detective named Holland March(Ryan Gosling) to find Misty, because she believes she has seen Misty moving around in her apartment AFTER her reported death. And as has been shown to us earlier, March is not above investigating cases for a good payday even if he already knows the outcome (as witnessed & showed in the trailers by the case of the widower whose husband has been missing since his funeral). What we also learn is that March is a burnout as well as borderline alcoholic – following his wife’s death a few years earlier, and is desperately trying to keep the pieces of his life together as well as take care of his daughter Holly(Angourie Rice). And EVEN Holly – who is quickly shown as being the one in the family with some actual brains – labels March as “the world’s worst detective”…

Anyhoo – pretty soon March crosses paths with a muscle-for-hire/aspiring private eye/the guy with some anger-issues named Jackson Healy(Russell Crowe), who – in the case of mistaken identity – actually breaks Mach’s arm (talk about first impressions!). But never mind about who broke who’s arm – pretty soon the two discover that they are actually working the same weird case, which now has several different parties searching for the same girl, Amelia Kutner(Margaret Qualley) – who may or may not know something about the shady conditions under which Misty allegedly died: there’s a duo of enforcers called Blue Face(Beau Knapp, named after a color-pack explodes on his face after he digs through a bag of money he shouldn’t have) and Keith David(no point with character names: it’s Keith Motherfucking David and that’s all you need to know – even in the credits he’s just “The Older Guy”), as well as a highly efficient hitman named John Boy(Matt Bomer) and Amelia’s mother Judith(Kim Basinger) who works at the Department of Justice.

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The plot circles into a deep maze of Detroit Auto industry, corruption, environmental activists and a McGuffin in the shape of a film-can containing an “arty” porn-film that’s actually a big protest against the industrial pollution of the atmosphere, but it’s actually not that important because the main focus of the film really is all these fucked-up characters and the crazy fucked-up situations they get pulled in(as a rough example: it’s sort of like all the Darin Morgan-written “X-Files”-episodes). From the earliest scenes it’s very evident that we are witnessing the birth of yet another legendary Shane Black buddy-team. There was Murtaugh and Riggs, Hallenbeck and Dix, Baltimore and Hennessy, Harry and Perry – and to a degree also Tony and Rhodey. Now there’s March and Healy.

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But; I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the overall impression of the film first.

If “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” was still Black sort of finding his own directorial voice and “Iron Man 3” was him getting back to the big-budget filmmaking and playing with the big expensive toys, “The Nice Guys” is the first 100% pure, unlimited Shane Black-film. It is very clear that he is something of an encyclopedia of film, as well as all the classic film-cliches. And he seems pretty much hell-bent on taking a piss on all of those cliches and giving them a completely new spin, sometimes veering into total parody (his take on the old “throwing a gun to the other guy”-gag as well as a background gag of March swimming after a mermaid in a windowed pool are almost Zucker/Abrams/Zucker-territory – and then theres a bit involving falling asleep at the wheel which goes right into a “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas”-territory). I guess the proper genre-tag (if anyone cares of such labeling) of this film would be a “period detective noir parody“. Setting the film in the 70’s and all the outrageous excess and sleaziness of that period seems to have freed Black to just go completely head-on in the realm of the ridiculous.

Having a great score by John Ottman & David Buckley as well as a kick-ass selection of the groovy tunes of the 70’s also helps. He doesn’t go as far (some would claim “too far”) as some filmmakers have gone and make the film in the style of the 70’s movies (film grain, jump cuts, kung-fu zooms etc.), but instead uses the most modern filmmaking tools available and directs with such an economical confidence of frame that it’s a marvel(see what I did there?) to watch. He NEVER makes the visuals take control of the scenes – it’s all about the dialogue. And the characters.

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And boy does he let those characters play. I imagine there must be hours and hours worth of ad-libs and alternate takes from this movie, as Gosling and Crowe just keep stealing moment after moment. This will go down in history as one of the great comedic double acts. Frankly, I was VERY surprised that Ryan Gosling was this good at comedy. Both verbal and physical comedy. Pretty much nothing he has done before has given any hints to the things he pulls off in this movie. To be totally honest, I’d put him up for a Golden Globe for the “Best Performance in a Comedy” right now – accept no substitutes. He embraces the complete ineptitude, clumsiness and the idiocy of his character in a way that the closest possible comparison is probably Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda“. And he has perfect counterbalances with Crowe – who I thought from the trailers was just sort of parodying his character in “LA Confidential“, but is in fact sort of playing on his much-publicized real life tough-guy persona but adding a level of warmness and cuddly-bear type likability to it (to be fair, I have always known that Crowe CAN be funny – there are behind-the-scenes bits from over the years that have shown that over and over again. But this really is the first time that persona has been put on screen properly) – and Rice, who is clearly the more capable one of the Marches and something of a spiritual successor of Danielle Harris‘ Darian in “The Last Boy Scout“. You could say that these characters are a triumvirate that makes for one pretty good detective: March’s power is Dumb Luck (and apparent indestructability), Healys is Strength and Holly’s is Intelligence. And all the other players also get their chance to shine in the movie as well; with the small exception of Kim Basinger, who doesn’t really get all that much to do – and this might be the only little tiny scratch in the movies armor. Maybe her character was just a little TOO straight-faced in opposite of these crazy guys playing against her and could have used a little bit more character quirks or something, I don’t know.

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All in all, “The Nice Guys” is a hell of a lot of fun and will no doubt get a lot of rewatches and re-evaluation (is it just me, or is that opening shot from behind the graffitied-up and decaying Hollywood-sign a slight nod to “Demolition Man”- also from Joel Silver?) as the year comes to a close. I know yours truly will watch the hell out of it again. and again. After all, rewatchability is a big issue when I decide on the greatness of a movie. This one makes me want a new Shane Black-movie every year from now on – and as he’s already deep in the production on both “The Predator” and “Doc Savage“, things are looking good. And hell – let’s make some silent (or not so silent) wishes for maybe a “The Nicer Guys” somewhere down the line.

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I Am Better

Coming from the frozen wastelands of Finnish tundra. Mr. Better seeks warmth from his television & home theater and all the wonders they provide. He occasionally dabbles in the arts of drawing and photography.

  • Dee-abolik

    Great work! I have to see this- always been a Black fan and I am glad he is going through some career renaissance right now.

  • CoolHandJuke

    i wanna see this, but there’s just too many young sailors down at the dock to pleasure lately. i used to dream of being so busy…

  • I_am_better

    Yeah. And now he gets to do things his way. I was actually surprised to learn that even the “Lethal Weapon” script went through massive rewrites without him

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Black should have restrained his penchant for unconventional story choices when it came to crafting the Iron Man 3 plot. They work in the context of his original movies but were ill-fitting for a superhero tale, especially one that was part of a larger narrative franchise.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    What changes were made to Lethal Weapon?

  • Sagamanus

    Hold up. Reading now…or in 15 minutes.

  • Lillyasmith2

    <<o. ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★::::::!fn301m:….,….

  • KilliK

    what career renaissance? this movie was a flop.

  • I_am_better

    I don’t know the exact nature of the rewrites, except that Richard Donner and his writer felt Black’s version was “too dark” or something. So imagine that the version of the first “Lethal Weapon” we now have is a toned-down version.

  • Nice write up but I will have to watch both this ans Stranger Things (the rest of anyway.) because the missus wasn’t into either.

  • Dee-abolik

    He does get to make the new Predator though. This flop is just a little bump on the road. He mad a movie that earned over a billion. Who cares for butthurt Marvel fans? He will get more projects.

  • KilliK

    that doesnt mean much. especially if he fucks it up like Rodriguez did.

  • Dee-abolik

    Rodriguez made the mistake to give it to the wrong director. It would have worked if he did it himself.

  • KilliK

    it wouldnt. not with such a horrible script and an inadequate budget.

  • Dee-abolik

    okay, not if he had worked under the same circumstances you are right.

  • As for Civil War being less favorable than Winter Soldier, in some ways its debatable. WS made for an excellent Political Superhero conspiracy thriller while on the other hand Civil War showcased the potentitual of both Black Panther and Spider-Man. Also the dialog was witty without taking itself too seriously however, Zemo served as the weakest part of the movie. The way I see it, Apples and Oranges.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Yeah, there’s not much between them as far as I can see.

    I preferred Civil War’s smaller-scaled third act to Winter Soldier’s more conventional, CGI-fueled one, which wasn’t all that engaging to me. Civil War dared to follow that subversive Empire Strikes Back structure (starts out big/major action set-piece in the middle/more character-driven finale complete with dark revelations), which was a refreshing change to the usual blockbuster/ Marvel movie formula.

    I like both films, but I don’t see either as flawless, nor any great difference in quality between them.

  • Same here!

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    There’s an alternate, darker introduction to the Riggs character on the DVD, and it shows him depressed and drunk in a bar and beating the shit out of two thugs who hassle him. Donner says he changed it because he wanted a more humorous, quirky introduction to the character (waking up naked in his messy trailer home with his dog). Maybe that’s a clue to the kind of things that were changed in rewrites.

    In that case, I have to side with Donner – Lethal Weapon is a dark and intense cop thriller, but even the first film had charm and featured humorous banter between the characters. You can’t make everything gritty and hard-boiled (and consequently, one-note) all the time, as Black may have wanted. Perhaps Black even wanted Riggs to die at the end, as occurred in his early script for the second movie.

    You have to have some sort of shading and dynamics in these movies as well as unrelenting bleakness and nihilism for their own sake, and the original decisions of a writer – even a talented one like Black – aren’t necessarily always right or better, although we might assume that they are just because he’s the author of the piece.

  • KilliK

    hm, I thought that was the alternate intro scene for Riggs:

  • I_am_better

    If I recall, there was an alternate ending to the first movie where Murtaugh retires and they kinda part ways.
    And Black wanted Riggs to die at the end of the 2nd movie – that much I remember

  • I_am_better

    Flop does not mean a bad movie. It means a misguided, stupid, zombiefied moviegoing audience.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Nah, it’s this one:

  • I_am_better

    I actually like this scene. That’s why I oddly prefer the “directors” cut of LW1

  • KilliK

    it was received well from the critics/audience either.

  • KilliK

    nice, havent seen that before. But I prefer the intro in the movie.

  • KilliK

    does the director’s cut has that scene?

  • I_am_better

    Yes. It’s not an official directors cut though. Donner stated that it was put together by the studio, not him

  • KilliK

    name of the cut?

  • I_am_better

    It’s this batch of DVD’s that was released in 2000. But afterwards Donner said that the whole “director’s cut” was just a marketing gimmick by Warner Bros, and he had nothing to do with the re-edits.

    http://www.karlf.com/My%20Pictures/DVD%20Covers/Lethal%20Weapon%201%20Directors%20Cut.jpg

    http://www.karlf.com/My%20Pictures/DVD%20Covers/Lethal%20Weapon%202%20Directors%20Cut.jpg

    http://www.karlf.com/My%20Pictures/DVD%20Covers/Lethal%20Weapon%203%20Directors%20Cut.jpg

  • KilliK

    that scene doesnt make much sense. they tried to rob and kill him, but the bar owner kicks out Riggs although he knows that he is a cop? I mean, I understand it’s supposed to be a shady bar and Riggs is drunk but the owner’s reaction is not logical. I am glad they replaced it.

  • KilliK

    darker that trying to put a bullet in your head while a cartoon is on tv? The official scene works better but the original scene is not darker, it just shows a washed up drunk who knows how to defend himself. I think what Shane originally intended for Riggs, we got with the miserable failure that was Willis’ character in Last Boyscout.

  • KilliK

    hm interesting. but if I am not mistaken, there was an official DC from Donner in a new BR release, a few years back, wasnt it?

  • I_am_better

    The Bluray-versions are just the theatrical cuts, which he states are “his director’s cuts”. There’s a shitload of deleted scenes as extras there though – especially from the first movie

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    It’s definitely darker. The whole scene is very scummy and sadistic (breaking that guy’s arm when he’s down), and Riggs doesn’t come across as very likeable either, just as a dirty, violent asshole. It’s a big contrast to a guy waking up and feeding his dog while showing his ass for the ladies. In fact, the original intro does remind me a lot of the Joe Hallenback character.

    Yeah, Riggs tries to eat a bullet, but that comes later and is more sympathetic because of the humorous earlier scene where we first saw him and because we can see it’s something to do with his dead wife.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    I think it was because he knew Riggs was an off-duty cop and didn’t want him to get in trouble.

  • Dee-abolik

    I remember Black saying that fight in the end was not there.

  • KilliK

    uh, ok, thanks, didnt know that.

  • KilliK

    that still doesnt make sense.

  • KilliK

    yeah, you are talking about the character initial impression. yeah, you are right, he is more sympathetic in the official intro, whereas in the alternate he looks like an asshole. I agree with that.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Again, I’m glad it was changed, then. I think the movie would have lost something without that climactic one-on-one fight and simply ended in a conventional shootout. It’s always entertaining to watch two crazy guys – both onscreen and in real life – beating the hell out of each other!

  • Bop

    Really looking forward to this. You made me even more enthousiastic now, Abs.

  • Bop

    I am probably the only one who didn’t like the end fight.

  • Sagamanus

    I’m about to watch this film in fact. We’ll check back in later as I’ve already read the article. Spoilers aren’t particularly relevant for a film like this. It’s all about interaction anyway.