The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★★★★

2016 movie viewings, #126. You wanna hear something shocking? I've never seen Lethal Weapon; because even when it first came out in 1987, I was already a Ministry-listening, raincoat-sporting little punk-rock college kid who had no interest in empty action movies that keep the normals safely placated, an attitude here now at 47 that I've still never really given up. But I'm old and mature enough now to acknowledge that when any movie manages to stay around in the public consciousness as a cultural touchstone for thirty years, there obviously has to be something special about that movie; so when I heard that the writer of Lethal Weapon, Shane Black, had a new movie out, and especially when I saw that nearly all my friends at Letterboxd were giving it good reviews, I decided that this was a movie I should take a gander at, despite my usual avoidance of this genre altogether.

And indeed, I think it's telling that this movie started life as a failed pitch for a weekly basic-cable television show; because underneath the utterly generic storyline that holds the movie together (regarding a dead porn star in 1970s Los Angeles, and the investigation into who murdered her), the almost exclusive reason to watch and enjoy this film is the rich characterization of all the people involved, and especially the chemistry between them as they interact. A lot of this can be boiled down to the actors who were hired -- Russell Crowe as a portly, past-his-prime but still ethically principled private eye, essentially his character from LA Confidential twenty years later, after he's gone to seed; Ryan Gosling as a fellow private eye who's forced to work with Crowe to solve the case, spasmic and weaselly to Crowe's brutish unflappability; and Angourie Rice as Gosling's world-weary 14-year-old daughter, who serves as both the brains of the operation and its moral compass, bringing just the exact right combination of adult precociousness and little-girl naivety. But a lot of what makes this work is also simply very excellent writing, which I suspect is the same thing that Black brought to the Lethal Weapon script which is what's making it still regularly quoted to this day.

It almost doesn't matter what situation these three find themselves in, since the main reason to watch is to see the way they interact; and that would make for an excellent weekly one-hour dramedy on, say, the USA Network, home of such similar set-ups as Monk and Psych. As it is, though, this big-budget movie version is well worth your time, even if like me you're not particularly a fan of action movies, if for no other reason than to prepare yourself for the much more expensively-hyped but slightly more disappointing inevitable sequel that we all know is coming in the next year or two.

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