Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Black Comedy

The Nice Guys (2016) is the first movie I saw promoted as a "Shane Black" movie. I might have heard of Black as a screenwriter, and of course we just saw him in Predator. But for this, I heard people gushing over a new Shane Black script, directed by Shane Black, and they mentioned Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which I quite liked, so, what the heck?

Black is famous for buddy films (Lethal Weapon, to start with), and this is no different: a couple of private eyes in Los Angeles, 1977. Russell Crowe is a cynical leg-breaker, who mostly seems to take money from young girls to beat up guys who are creeping on them. Ryan Gosling is an alcoholic private eye (with a license and an ad in the Yellow Pages) with a 13-year old daughter (Angourie Rice) who doesn't seem to like him much. Gosling's case involves finding a young woman, but that woman (Margaret Qualley) hires Crowe because people are following her. So Crowe winds up breaking Gosling's arm. That's their meet-cute.

Pretty soon everyone is hunting for the girl, as well as a porn film (experimental porn film - political experimental porn film), and people involved are dying. The girl's mother is District Attorney Kim Basinger, and she wants the girl found, or killed, or something. That stuff isn't important.

What is important is the chemistry between the two investigators - the heavy and the drunk. Crowe looks a little like John Goodman here, maybe even heading to Gerard Depardieu territory. Gosling has a 70s pornstache and the clueless look of a Ron Burgandy.

But maybe even more important is Gosling's daughter and her tween friends. Gosling treats them all like adults, gossiping about their families ("Your sister is such a slut, Jessica"). Makes sense because, compared to these two palookas, the kids are more mature and clear-eyed. She's a good influence on her dad and his friend.

Then there's the goofy stuff - often involving mayhem (big body count, mostly bystanders). There are classic mystery tropes: Like when the clue is "Opening Night", the daughter immediately figures out that this refers to the opening night of the LA Auto Show. Sure, how many opening nights could there be in LA? Then there are the little references, like when Gosling gets too scared to talk and all he can do his make little noises and point, like Lou Costello.

Not to mention the glorious smog of 1977 LA, the gas lines, the Comedy Store in the background of some shots. It doesn't get hokey - no leisure suits or fondue sets - but sweetly nostalgic.

It was so much fun that we followed up with Knight and Day (2010). I had seen this before, but I wanted Ms. Spenser to see it. Since it is a rom-com starring Tom Cruise (who she hates) and Cameron Diaz (who I love and she's indifferent to), this was a hard sell. But she got into it.

It's basically an old Goldy Hawn slapstick, although Diaz isn't playing an airhead. She meets Tom Cruise on a plane, and while she's in the bathroom, he kills everyone on board, including the pilot. You see, he's a rogue secret agent, and everyone is out to get him. But he really likes her and is actually very nice to her. If he'd just stop drugging her...

It's got some great car chases (lots of roof surfing), wild fights, exotic locales, and so on. But the fun part is when Cruise compliments Diaz on her dress while hanging onto the roof of her car, speeding the wrong way down Storrow Drive. Yes, she's from Boston, and there's the traditional geographically nonsensical chase, first north out of town on the over the Bunker Hill Bridge, then west through Back Bay on Storrow, then Southie, the Callahan Tunnel, and who knows where.

I love Diaz as a comedian - the scene where they give her truth serum and she won't shut up is a scream. She also gets to be more than a ditz - although I'm not sure how sincere the director was. Any way, it made a great double-bill with The Nice Guys: two retro comedy thrillers.

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