THE NICE GUYS: good dirty fun in the dirty air of 1970s LA

Ryan Gosling and Angourie Rice in THE NICE GUYS
Ryan Gosling and Angourie Rice in THE NICE GUYS

Director Shane Black created the Lethal Weapon franchise, so he is pretty much the Jedi Master of the mismatched cop buddy genre.  His latest action comedy, The Nice Guys, is an entertaining romp through 1970s LA.   Russell Crowe plays LA’s toughest goon – but a goon who is a man-of-his-word stand up guy.  Ryan Gosling plays LA’s seediest private eye, a morally ambiguous drunk and and an epically unreliable single dad.  Circumstances force them to work a mystery together, and the fun begins.

Ryan Gosling delivers a comic tour de force performance.  His losing battle with the door of a toilet stall rates with the best work of Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers. He even delivers a reaction that’s a wonderful homage to Stan Laurel.  Crowe turns out to be a very able straight man.

The MacGuffin that the guys are chasing is the print of a porn flick with an activist political message.  The conspiratorial villain is Detroit’s US auto industry.  The plot is so absurd that it’s actually a pretty fair parody of another genre – the paranoid political thriller.  In a nice touch, the super scary evil hit man doesn’t look a bit like you would expect.

And then there’s the private eye’s child rearing habits, which today would prompt calls to Child Protective Services.  Just like much of the fun in Mad Men is the interior smoking, day drinking and secretary-chasing, here we get to mock the capital I Inappropriateness of Gosling’s 1970s single dad. He lets his 13-year-old hang out at a vacant lot after dark and then accompany him to a drug-filled bacchanalian orgy.

That daughter is played by Aussie child actor Angourie Rice, who is just about perfect in this role.  The last two-thirds of The Nice Guys becomes a three-hander with Crowe, Gosling and Rice.

Black takes us right back to the late seventies with more than just bad clothes, hair and music.  We see gas lines, smog alerts, crawling freeways and pre-catylitic converter cars.  Characters write checks, and there’s nary a cell phone.

The Nice Guys may not be deep, but it sure is funny.  (And it sets up a sequel.)

Les Miserables: Now I’m miserable, too

Let’s get this out of the way first – having neither seen nor desired to see the Broadway musical Les Miserables, I am not the target audience for this movie.  I don’t care for melodramas – and Les Mis is two melodramas in one – the story of the saintly Jean Valjean being chased for decades by the monomaniacal Javert and a romance between two kids.  So I was mostly bored.  If, however, you love Les Mis, you’ll probably enjoy this long, long, lavish all-star effort from director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, The Damned United, John Adams).

The cast is mostly excellent.  Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn), Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit are all excellent singers and give outstanding performances.  Redmayne is exceptional.  Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are very funny in the comic roles (the highlight of the movie for lowbrow me). The other lead is Russell Crowe, who really can’t match the singing ability of the other actors, which is a distraction.

Hooper has made the costumes and make-up very realistic for the filthy and scabby period.  This, for me, was jarring when juxtaposed against the artificiality of the characters breaking into song and some very cheesy CGI sets.

Now here’s one of my pet peeves – movies that should be over but linger like an unwanted guest.  Here, both of the plot threads (the chase and the romance) are resolved, yet the movie goes on for three more songs, including a death scene and the stirring finale.  Aaaack.