Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Nice Guys

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Shane Black is one of those creative auteurs who is best off directing his own material. There’s a certain skewed way that he views the world that only he can translate from page to screen. He clearly loves buddy movies, and his big screenwriting break in 1987, “Lethal Weapon,” set the template for more to come. Richard Donner directed that one, and it worked because it was a more conventional mismatched buddy cop movie. His later efforts, such as 1993’s “Last Action Hero” and 1996’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” were also mismatched buddy action movies, but Black collaborated with others on the scripts, and those movies were directed by others. I personally think both of these movies are under appreciated, but even so, I will admit that they are flawed and uneven. There’s a certain balance of action and comedy in a Shane Black movie that is hard for other directors to comprehend. A director really needs to be inside of Black’s head in order to understand what he’s intending.

That’s why it’s good that he finally took the directing reigns of his own material for 2005’s subversively funny take on the film noir genre, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” with Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer as the buddies. After proving with “Iron man 3” that he can collaborate with other writers as long as he helms the movie, he continues his hot streak with “The Nice Guys,” which he directed and co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi.

This time Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play the buddies. Crowe—looking bulky and bloated like he’s drinking three protein shakes a day—plays Jackson Healy, a thug for hire in 1977 Los Angeles. He makes his living by roughing people up. This leads him to one day rough up Holland March (Ryan Gosling), an alcoholic private eye who apparently makes a lot of his money going on wild goose hunts at the behest of old ladies. After what’s basically the tough guy version of a meet cute, the two men team up to search for a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who’s caught up in the seedy porno industry that was booming at the time.

This time the buddies get a third partner—March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). This could have gone way wrong and been super annoying, but it’s just the opposite. Clearly the more mature of the two members of the March family, Holland relies on the precocious 13 year to drive him around when he’s too drunk to do so himself. She fits in well with the two grown men, as she not only grounds them but provides them with a moral compass. Holly is a kind and caring person who not only wants to see Amelia returned home safely, she also doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt, not even enemies who try to do her harm like a sinister character called Blueface (Beau Knapp), whom she takes pity on at one point.

It’s through her that Holland and Jackson grow and become better people. Moreover, Holly does some maturing of her own after seeing some of the sex and violence inherent to a story such as this. Of all of the characters, Holly is the one most out of her comfort zone who has to learn to adapt. It’s her choice to be there—even though her father doesn’t like it—and in the end everyone is better off for her involvement.

Story, character, and action are one thing—and “The Nice Guys” does all exceptionally well—but what gives a Shane Black movie its edge is the humor. Whether it’s through the dialogue or the action, there is something sly and sneakily funny about Black’s take on the world he creates. I recall laughing hysterically at the end of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” when Downey is facing the camera and wrapping things up, then Kilmer interrupts him and says, “To all of you good people in the Midwest, sorry we said fuck so much.” There are some good dialogue moments in “The Nice Guys,” but nothing as sharp as that. There are some funny action surprises though, my favorite of which involves Holland hiding behind a car during a shootout. The idea of hiding behind a car for safety from bullets is insane (unless the door is bulletproof), but what makes this car special is that it’s on a dais that rotates 360 degrees. As Holland quickly learns, that is a definite logistical problem.

The buddy movie genre is a Hollywood mainstay. It’s not going anywhere in spite of the fact that there are so many ways that the movies can be done with incredible mediocrity or outright badness (Is anyone really down for a “Ride Along 3”?). What makes Shane Black’s take on the genre so special is his ability to pick it apart. He knows it inside and out, and therefore is able to create great movies within the genre that also provide a fresh, clever, and new perspective each time. In the case of Jackson, Holland, and Holly, these are some “Nice Guys” who definitely do not finish last. Buy it on Amazon: The Nice Guys (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Ultraviolet Combo Pack)

Also Out This Week

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

There’s a moment toward the beginning of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” where Sara (Jessica Chastain), love interest to Eric (Chris Hemsworth), looks like she’s bitten the dust. Even by this early point I could tell this movie would be trash, and I thought to myself, “Good for you Jessica Chastain. I’m sure you have an Oscar-worthy project to move on to that is a better use of your time.” Fast forward about half an hour later and Sara is back. I was disappointed and felt bad for Chastain, but I get it: She wanted the paycheck. After all, even A-list actors need to take jobs for money and pay the mortgage. There’s really no other reason an actress of her caliber would volunteer to appear in such dreck.

Hammy acting, rubbery CGI, uninspired action, and superfluous characters—this movie has it all. The chief offense, though, are the predicable romances, the worst one of which is between Eric and Sara. If there were ever two actors who clearly were in it for the money and had no chemistry, it’s Chastain and Hemsworth in this movie. Part of it is the fault of the characters—both are written as hardened and staunchly individualistic and independent. These are fine qualities in heroes, but allowances must also be made for love and to make yourself vulnerable enough to allow another person into your life. Neither Sara nor Eric do that. They both build metaphorical walls around themselves that are so impenetrable that each does not come out of it, nor do they let the other in. It’s just one big, icy stalemate.

This could have been made up for at least a little bit if the story was at all decent, but it’s not. Just another fairy tale of an evil queen, this time played by Emily Blunt, seeking to ban love and increase her empire. “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” doesn’t deviate from the standard template at all, the end result being that this is one tale that most certainly did not have to be told, and under no circumstances should time be wasted watching it. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Wiener-Dog,” Todd Solondz movie about a dog that travels across the country spreading joy and comfort; “Midnight Run,” great road movie from 1988, starring Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter who must deliver a bail jumper (Charles Grodin) from New York to L.A. in time to cash in on a $100,000 reward; and “Psycho IV: The Beginning,” last official entry into the original “Psycho” series starring Anthony Perkins, this time recounting his troubled childhood to a talk radio DJ discussing matricide.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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