This weekend should prove to be interesting as Shane Black finally returns to the genre that he perfected with Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It goes up against a sequel to the surprise 2014 hit Neighbors.
The Nice Guys
Shane Black has enjoyed a colorful career. He’s played bit parts in Predator and The Hunt for Red October. He’s written some legendary movies like Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He’s also directed Iron Man 3 and the great Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. (Seriously, watch it now if you haven’t seen it.) I was happy to hear that he was taking making use of a strange lead pairing again in the same buddy cop genre.
In The Nice Guys, Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a shady PI, who will begrudgingly take money in whatever job is offered to him. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a PI, who breaks bones first, without asking questions. These two are brought together as they are both caught up in the search for a missing girl, which all leads to a conspiracy around the murder of an adult film star in 1978.
The time period is done perfectly. The fashion, the cars and hippie mentality give this movie a perfect grindhouse flair that allows everything that happens to be bonkers and unpredictable. It’s a movie that makes the time period more than just a setting. While the plot unfolds, we get a glimpse into life in the late ’70s as people are worried about the smog, while swinging parties are a weekly mainstay in Los Angeles.
The shining star here is Ryan Gosling. While leading this movie, which can often be dramatic, he manages to be the comic relief throughout. He is the clumsy Laurel to Crowe’s straight man Hardy. There are very few moments in The Nice Guys when Holland isn’t terrified of simple situations. He’s constantly overreacting to everything that upsets his “normal” life. When he’s not freaking out, he’s most likely drunk.
The tense moments arise as the normally unflappable Healy gets panicked. It’s then that the action picks up, and people tend to die in very violent ways. Russell Crowe makes Ryan Gosling better and vice versa. It proves that Shane Black knew what he was doing picking these two to lead the movie.
This is the kind of movie where the actors work so well together and the dialogue is so well written, that you think it could do no wrong. Yet, the plot falls apart once it reaches the end. In a movie where so much attention is placed on the writing, I can’t help but wonder why the events weren’t more thought out. When certain characters are introduced halfway through the movie, it telegraphs who is really behind the murders. Which would be fine, if the characters didn’t treat it like a big reveal when things take a turn for the worst. It all becomes telegraphed and lazy. The twists become unimportant, while the emphasis stays on the humor. Other than the middle act which drags, the humor keeps the movie rolling right along.
The Nice Guys is a very funny movie. Gosling and Crowe are an unlikely, but great pairing. When the movie finished, I forget about what it tried to say (and it said it with a heavy coat of cynicism), and actually hoped for a tighter sequel. This will be a great rental. B-
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Comedy sequels have a terrible track record. Take a look at Zoolander 2, Pitch Perfect 2, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and Ted 2 for very recent examples. Most of the time, they suffer from the Hangover 2 copy-and-paste disorder. In any attempt to reclaim the magic of the original, they blatantly cannibalize every joke that worked before.
That brings us to Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
In the first movie, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are new parents that are overjoyed to own their first home. Unfortunately for them, they realize they’re right next door to a swinging frat house that plays host to countless parties. Realizing they’ve made a terrible investment, Mac and Kelly try to push the frat guys out. The frat, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) retaliate in a big way. They battle until a strange compromise is reached and the writers ran out of dirty pranks to throw into the mix.
Now, it’s a few years later. Mac and Kelly have just sold their house and only have to wait the 30-day escrow period before the buyers can back out. Everything goes according to plan until a few sorority misfits, led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) buck every sorority house rule and end up renting the house next door to host their own brand of drug-addled parties. Mac and Kelly know that if their new buyer knows what they’d be getting into, they’ll run away from the deal. This brings us all back to the constant battles between the neighbors.
Meanwhile, Efron’s character is still looking for his place in life. He also seems to be looking for his place in this movie, because he’s never quite necessary. He’s more than happy to be a turncoat if it means that he’ll be valued.
I think a statement is trying to be made about the objectification of women and how independent minds can break free from that. All while, Efron takes his shirt off in every scene. If anyone is being objectified, it’s him. It does flip the fraternity stereotype on its head, but gets lost in all the crassness prevalent throughout. It’s hard to prove your wheel of morality, when every joke is mired in shock humor.
The best role in the movie, as it was in the first movie, goes to Rose Byrne. Her brand of subtlety has far more mileage than Rogen’s brash in-your-face delivery. While Byrne is watchable, it doesn’t make her likable. In fact, every character in this movie is unlikable and it’s nearly impossible to root for any single one of them. Watching a back-and-forth prank battle isn’t fun when you have no investment in who wins.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a D+ movie because it recycles every joke that worked (and didn’t) in the first movie. I went in with a small quota of four laughs, but only walked out with three guilty chuckles. It continues the legacy of terrible comedy sequels that do nothing to innovate on the original.