The Nice Guys

You may not know it but around ten years ago they made a new Nancy Drew film with Emma Roberts. It was a favourite in some quarters of our house for a while. The movie lifted the intrepid teenage sleuth from the books (and 70s TV show) and dropped her in the middle of a contemporary, but still slightly old fashioned, mystery surrounding the murder of a film star. There were secret messages, there were threatening media moguls with shady backgrounds and Nancy kept throwing herself into dangerous situations she was far too young to face up to. In the end though, through a mix of determination, ingenuity and insubordination, she solved the crime when the grown ups, including her detective father, couldn’t. It was all a little corny and there weren’t many surprises but the characterisation was good and it was all fairly enjoyable. Shane Black’s latest film, The Nice Guys, is a hell of a lot like Nancy Drew. It follows most of the same beats only with loads of bare breasts and swearing. 

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I have to say, this as not what I was expecting. Shane Black practically invented the buddy cop movie when he wrote Lethal Weapon back in the 80s and since that point he has been replaying the same kind of scenario in films like The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Even Iron Man 3 had unconventional white guy Tony Stark and by the book black serviceman James Rhodes out of their tin suits and cracking off one liners and hand cannons to take down corporate bad guys. This film does not stray away from this formula, pairing up honourable heavy Russell Crowe with hapless P.I Ryan Gosling to battle corrupt and murderous businessmen in 70s L.A, but in amongst of all of it is the latter’s thirteen year old daughter. She pretty much drives the plot and totally steals the show. 

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To be fair, involving children in the action is also something Shane Black has done before. Danny Glover’s kids were key to Lethal Weapon and let’s not forget that Black wrote The Last Action Hero that teamed Arnold Schwarzenegger up with a twelve year old boy. There are similarly important roles for youngsters in most of his films but this movie’s Holly March is easily the best adolescent character he has written. She is sassy, unflappable, smart and totally in control of her own life, much more so than her father, and she presents a positive image of young people and of women. She is also the only really likeable character in the whole movie but we’ll come back to that.

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It terms of other representation of femininity, this is another area in which Black is proving true to formula. Yes, he has given us strong females before – I refer you to The Long Kiss Goodnight, but he also has a habit of filling his movies with boobies. Think of the drug addled girl who threw herself off the roof thirty years ago, setting everything in motion for Riggs and Murtaugh. Did she really need to be topless? The thing is, it’s not 1987 anymore and the unbalanced objectification of the genders is something we ought to have moved away from. The film’s two femme fatales (no challenge to gender stereotypes there either) get to keep their clothes on but every other woman in the film over twenty is, at the very least, half naked. Mel Gibson got his butt out back in the day too but none of the men strip in this film apart from when Gosling goes for a quick swim. It could be argued that this is a little sexist.

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The title of the film is clearly meant to be ironic and sure enough the lead characters are deeply amoral. This isn’t to say their company is unenjoyable but it is hard to sympathise with them. Both have seen tragedy and they are just about on the side of the angels in this adventure but you suspect they’ve caused plenty of anguish to innocents themselves. While The Nice Guys is derivative of most of Shane Black’s work (and Nancy Drew), the movie it most readily compares to is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and this duo are not as engaging as Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer were in that story. In fact this latest flick has little of the sharp black humour that made that film such a gem. This is definitely an action comedy and Ryan Gosling is proving to be a very adept funny man but it just feels like we’ve been here several times before. 

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Swings and roundabouts then. If you go in expecting Nancy Drew meets Get Shorty meets The Last Boy Scout then you probably won’t be disappointed but it’s not as good as any of those other movies. 

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Actually no, it is better than Nancy Drew.

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