Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are an inspired comedy duo in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, an entertaining, inventive mystery-comedy that works as an action comedy, buddy film, and a throwback to 1970’s noirs like Chinatown and The Long Goodbye.
It’s 1977 in a perpetually smoggy Los Angeles, where car manufacturers are looking to further pollute the air while young rebellious types are staging what amounts to die-ins to protest the damage done to the environment. Enter Ryan Gosling as a private detective who’s investigating the disappearance of Amelia, a missing girl who, as it turns out, does not want to be found; she has in face engaged the services of tough guy Russell Crowe to deter such inquiries, as Gosling finds out in a very funny scene (he advises Gosling as to the medical terminology of his soon to be painfully inflicted condition). This initial antagonism turns into a reluctant partnership as Crowe and Gosling realize that the missing Amelia has everything to do not only with the rapacious car manufacturers, but also with the death of a porn actress in a car crash that opens the film.
The scenario of The Nice Guys (via Black and Anthony Bagarozzi) has the requisite twists and turns in a film populated by shady Hollywood types, brutally inept hit men, and a Justice Department official (Kim Basinger) whose concern for Amelia may be something other than a mother’s desire to find a missing daughter. Yet the film’s high entertainment factor resides in the unexpected little moments and witty exchanges that contribute to the viewer’s enjoyment. Crowe is looser than he’s ever been as a “muscle guy” who doesn’t flinch when it comes to silencing an enemy, yet is concerned with what Gosling’s daughter (a good Angourie Rice) thinks of him. Gosling however is a revelation; while some of his previous roles have hinted at his comic ingenuity, here he is a fast-talking, physically adept comedic whirlwind. Whether he is trying to keep Crowe at bay while trapped on the toilet, or giving it his best “Lou Costello” upon discovering a bloody corpse, or even rejoicing in his presumed invulnerability, Gosling is in fine, funny form throughout. As opposed to some derivative sequels making the rounds this season, The Nice Guys is an original that leaves one hoping it is successful enough for its own sequel.
If one were to take Dog Day Afternoon and mix in elements of John Q and Margin Call, you might wind up with Money Monster. In an effort to be relevant and entertaining, Money Monster casts George Clooney as a popular TV financial prognosticator whose predictions earn him an unwanted visit from an aggrieved, unstable, gun-wielding lad (Jack O’ Connell) who has lost everything after investing in one of Clooney’s “guaranteed stocks”---which proves to be worthless after it mysteriously collapses. All parties involved, including Clooney, the company’s CEO (Dominic Cooper), and his underlings initially disavow any knowledge of wrongdoing or sense of culpability. Making matters worse, O’Connell has taken the technicians hostage, and fitted Clooney with a bomb-laden vest that threatens to transport everyone nearby to that great television studio in the sky. In the meantime, Clooney’s director/romantic interest Julia Roberts tries to move mountains in order to get to figure out who’s to blame—as well as save the lives of Clooney and the crew.
Though Money Monster is reasonably tense, it is also all-too-predictable. One knows who the villain is—it’s just a matter of time before he is unmasked. It’s a shame a film that seeks to indict an entire system focuses on the machinations of one individual (but I guess that’s another story). One also knows how the dynamic between gunman and hostage will progress, and though both Clooney and O’Connell are persuasive, the outcome is practically a foregone conclusion. Helping matters is that Roberts is the best she has been in years (hopefully you’ve forgotten Mother’s Day), and director Jodie Foster is able to maintaining the viewer’s interest throughout. It’s just too bad that the script is a little too formulaic for its so-called ambitions.