The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys is not a direct descendant of the Lethal Weapon movies but it might be a first cousin. And it’s a casual acquaintance of Boogie Nights.

Some of my favorite movies are L.A. detective stories, including a few bad ones. The Nice Guys is a good one. Set in 1977 with a cool 70’s soundtrack, the film features title characters who are not quite as hardened as most other L.A. movie detectives.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a bumbling, hard-drinking single father. His precocious and cute 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) is the brains of the family (and the better driver).

Jackson Healy (a pudgier-than-usual Russell Crowe) is an enforcer who comes calling to damage Holland but goes on to partner with him as they work to solve a caper.

The film opens with a young boy checking out a babe named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) in a girlie mag when a car slams through his house. He sees the real life version of the foldout babe, tossed from the car and partially unclothed. She dies, setting the plot in motion.

Another babe, Amelia (Margaret Qualley) is trying to escape from a number of people who would silence her quest to end smog in L.A. One of those people is her mother Judith (Kim Basinger), a federal agent supposedly trying to bust the auto industry for violating EPA regs.

(The 62-year-old Basinger won an Oscar for her work with Crowe in another period piece film set in the same town, 1997’s L.A. Confidential. Her latest performance doesn’t make nearly as strong an impression.)

The Nice Guys’ plot is clever but the main reason to see the film is the newly-hatched partnership between Holland and Healy. There’s verbal and physical humor. My favorite bit involves Holland in a bathroom stall trying to manage his newspaper, his gun, his cigarette, the stall’s door and his pants at the same time. It’s a classic piece of business. A couple of the large scale tumbles Holland takes end with lucky landings.

Shane Black wrote and directed The Nice Guys. He wrote the first Lethal Weapon movie and is credited with creating those characters. He also wrote and directed Iron Man 3.

Gosling and Crowe are two of our most charismatic actors. Their onscreen chemistry is not quite a home run, but there’s enough going on here to suggest those two characters might be worth another go-around. It’s not a “must see” movie, but it’s a lot of fun! (With a healthy dose of violence, car crashes, explosions and all that other action film stuff.)

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Tasteless humor is okay—if it’s funny. When it’s not funny, it’s just gross and dumb.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is gross and dumb. The first Neighbors movie (2014) had the dynamic of Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) coming to grips with their adulthood and changing attitudes. Plus the competition between Mac and noisy next-door frat boy Teddy (Zac Efron) was hilarious.

In the new film, Mac and Kelly are selling their home. They have a contract but the sale won’t close for 30 days.

A trio of sorority pledges learns that the girls’ groups aren’t allowed to party on campus, so they manage to rent a house off campus, the one next door to the Radners—much to the dismay of Mac and Kelly. The three, Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), waste no time causing Mac and Kelly great upset.

Meanwhile, Efron’s Teddy is coping with his ascent into adulthood. His former frat-mates are moving on while he languishes in immaturity. He teams up with previous rivals Mac and Kelly to derail the sorority from pulling off their hell-raising shenanigans (which include a disgusting stunt with feminine hygiene products).

Among the supporting cast, it’s good to see Lisa Kudrow as the college dean, Kelsey Grammer as Shelby’s dad, Selena Gomez as a sorority president, Jerrod Carmichael as Teddy’s chum Garf and Hannibal Buress as a police officer.

Buress gained notoriety a couple of years back for mentioning, during a standup routine, Bill Cosby’s sexual assault allegations. After his remarks were spread, Cosby victims came out of the woodwork. In Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, when a couple realizes they’ve accidentally taken powerful drugs, the guy says, “We’ve been Cosbied!”

I had Moretz pegged for real stardom. She has talent, a distinctive look and on-screen confidence. But she moves back a couple of steps in this ridiculous role. She just turned 20 and still has plenty of career ahead, but her choice to be in this bad film is a misstep.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is disappointing on numerous levels. My main issue with the N2:SR is… it’s just not that funny. A comedy should make you laugh a lot instead of making you look at your watch, waiting for the end titles to show up.





Captain America: Civil War

Family squabbles can get messy. Workplace violence can be frightening.

In Captain America: Civil War, which is really an Avengers movie without Avengers in the title, the battle between the two sides is epic. Then, the final faceoff between Captain America and Iron Man gets even rougher.

The leadup to the big fight (which occurs about 90 minutes into this nearly 2-and-a-half-hour film) centers on concern over collateral damage resulting from past Avengers’ battles with evil entities. Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) tells the Avengers that 117 countries are about to sign off on accords that would require the Avengers to get approval before any missions.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is opposed to the limitations; Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks they are reasonable. Before resolution of the issue, a bomb explodes at a UN meeting in Vienna. The bomber is Captain America’s childhood friend turned brainwashed bad guy Bucky Barnes AKA Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

The son of an African blast victim joins the Avengers on their quest. His superhero character is Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Before the rumble, Stark recruits a high school kid named Peter Parker, just as he is becoming Spiderman. This latest iteration of the webslinger is portrayed by Tom Holland with wit and charm. (Marisa Tomei is the best-looking Aunt May ever.) Another citizen of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), returns to the big screen and plays a key role in the big melee.

This fight is fierce but more cartoonish than might’ve been guessed. Despite all the firepower from those named, along with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), there’s only slight damage: War Machine (Don Cheadle) suffers a significant leg injury. More fighting between Captain America and Ironman follows soon after, with participation from Winter Soldier.

Captain America: Civil War runs the risk of being packed with too many plot points and characters. It risks running too long. But the pacing is good with action and exposition alternating nicely. Robert Downey Jr. is still the best actor of the lot. But, as he matures, Chris Evans continues to bring a stronger screen presence to his role.

Stick around for the Stan Lee cameo, which happens near the end of the film and the brief coda which signals yet another reboot for Underoos (Ironman’s nickname for Spiderman).