A Perfect Popcorn Action Film – Review of The Nice Guys

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When you think of important action movies, a few come to mind. Die Hard would definitely be one of them. Bullitt for you old-school lovers of film. God help you, maybe the Fast and Furious movies.

One of the more, if not the most, important films in action movie history is a film called Lethal Weapon. And you really have on man to thank for this action film gem.

Besides Mel Gibson. And Danny Glover. And Richard Donner. No, not Gary Busey.

The correct answer: Shane Black. Black, a then unknown screenwriter, created one of the most memorable buddy duos in action film history, with his hilarious and intense action film. He then wrote the criminally underrated action film spoof The Last Action Hero, followed by the underrated (again) The Long Kiss Goodnight and then the critically acclaimed Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Oh yeah and he did Iron Man 3. Don’t put that against him though.

Point is, the guy knows how to make a good, funny action movie.

And with The Nice Guys, he did just that again. But this time, it might be his best work.

The Nice Guys has Private Detective Holland Marsh, played with extra drunken sleaze by Ryan Gosling, paired with tough guy Jackson Healy, played by Russell Crowe who is more toned down than usual. The plot is rather simple: Marsh is hired by a client to find someone’s niece, who may or may not be someone who just died two days previously. The movie is set in 1977 in Los Angeles.

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The Nice Guys is a throwback in the best ways: reminiscent of late 80’s/early 90’s buddy action flicks, the movie comes with some genuinely uproarious scenes as well as some great action scenes. It also has characters that, while not particularly deep, are likable enough for you to root for.

One of the things the movie uses really well is its setting. Grungy, seedy, yet effervescent and sexual charged 1977 brings back the best of movies from that era: from blacksplotation to movies like Taxi Driver and Saturday Night Fever. Even Boogie Nights, a movie rooted in 70’s nostalgia, is reminiscent in the best way.

The movie could have used this setting as an excuse for inconsistencies or to explain something that seems out of place in today’s setting.

For example: you can’t just call police wherever you are, because they didn’t have cell phones.

But the film smartly uses the setting to play off the lunacy of the two characters and the situations in the movie. Many films would use a setting as mere window dressing or as a source of nostalgia: this film uses it smartly for gags, great action and an off-kilter pace.

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Actually, the one thing the movie doesn’t do is go nostalgic of the time period, which is surprising. A lot of the things about the time period is what brings the characters down, which makes the need of going back in time rather refreshing than laboriously trying to say to you “Hey, remember this?”.

The duo of Crowe and Gosling was surprisingly good as well, since the two seem to have cinematic personas at odds with one another. Crowe, playing his character straight and gruff, and Gosling, playing his character whiny and incompetent, seem to have a cohesive gel in the film that allows their reactions to things to come off genuine resulting in more hilarity.

Yet, the key performance that locks this film is, surprisingly, Angourie Rice, who plays Marsh’s surprisingly capable and intelligence 10 year old daughter Holly. To me, Rice is the centerpiece of the film: she provides a swift kick in the film with some wit and some observational comedy. Not to mention she has some of the funniest scenes in the film.

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For an action movie, this belongs up there with Die Hard, Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies, etc. But will this be as timeless as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon? I would say yes: the setting and the antics laden action is an entertaining movie that, even if you are only slightly interested in action, you should check out. It’s great fun.

But let me preface this: For an action movie, it’s excellent. Manage expectations, turn off your brain and have some fun. For that, it’s well worth the 2 hours. It may very well be one of those movies I watch every other year just because (like I do with Wayne’s World and Hot Shots!)

This is a perfect popcorn movie.

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