Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

The Nice Guys (MA15+) National re­lease Alice Through the Look­ing Glass (PG) National re­lease The Rus­sell Crowe-Ryan Gosling comic crime thriller The Nice Guys is writ­ten and di­rected by Shane Black, who left an im­pres­sive im­print on the buddy-cop genre by writ­ing Lethal Weapon in 1987 and its se­quel two years later. He’s since writ­ten and di­rected the clever Robert Downey Jr neo-noir mur­der mys­tery Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and, fea­tur­ing the same wise­crack­ing star, Iron Man 3 (2013), so he is a film­maker with a sense of hu­mour. That cer­tainly comes to the fore in this 1970s crime ca­per, set in a con­fused Los An­ge­les, not least be­cause of the crisp chem­istry be­tween the two stars. Their slap­stick phys­i­cal­ity (es­pe­cially Gosling’s) and wry di­a­logue is worth a laugh, but is that due to the script or be­cause it’s two se­ri­ous stars be­ing funny? I think it’s more the lat­ter.

Hol­land March (Gosling) is a wid­owed pri­vate de­tec­tive with a fond­ness for the bot­tle and an im­pa­tience with peo­ple who don’t speak prop­erly. (“I trans­late f..kwit into English,’’ he says of the in­ter­view­ing side of his job.) He has a 13-year-old daugh­ter, Holly (win­ningly played by Mel­bourne ac­tress An­gourie Rice), who is smart in a 70s kid kind of way and prob­a­bly the nicest per­son around (note, she’s not a guy). Jack­son Healy (Crowe) is a step be­low gumshoe: he’s a knuck­le­duster-wear­ing tough guy who beats up peo­ple for a liv­ing. Crowe may be a bit less buff than he was in Gla­di­a­tor or Cin­derella Man, but he still knows how to throw an on­screen punch.

He throws a cou­ple of good ones at Gosling when their char­ac­ters first meet. This fisticuffs scene is one of a hand­ful that are just about worth the price of a ticket. So too are Crowe and Gosling head­ing down­wards in a lift af­ter avoid­ing a blood­bath, and the two in­ter­ro­gat­ing some stu­dents protest­ing against air pollution. Some of the phys­i­cal scenes are also well done, such as Gosling’s silent movie star re­ac­tion to a corpse, or his toss­ing a gun to Crowe dur­ing a shootout, or the cli­mac­tic, bul­let-loos­ing, bone-jar­ring chase through an LA hotel.

The film opens with the ap­par­ent car crash death of a porn star, Misty Moun­tains (Murielle Te­lio). An­other young woman who looks like her, Amelia Kut­ner (Mar­garet Qual­ley), has gone miss­ing and March is hired to in­ves­ti­gate. Also, there are claims that Misty Moun­tain was seen alive two days af­ter her demise. March and Healy (pals af­ter their brawl, nat­u­rally) team up to try to find Amelia, who is also be­ing pur­sued by two hit­men. Young Holly joins in, bring­ing brains to the en­ter­prise.

There is a bit go­ing on in a wider sense: pos­si­ble cor­rup­tion (Kim Basinger is Amelia’s mother and the head of the Jus­tice Depart­ment); the power of Detroit car­mak­ers; the re­lated en­vi­ron­men­tal protests. It seems there may be a ru­inous po­lit­i­cal mes­sage for the pow­ers-thatbe im­planted in a porn film in which Amelia was in­volved. The hit­men want that film and are killing any­one who stands in their way.

With so much to play with, I sus­pected the story would take a few un­ex­pected de­tours and spring a sur­prise or two, but this didn’t hap­pen, at least for me. While Crowe and Gosling are ter­rific ac­tors and fun to watch to­gether, I left the cin­ema think­ing that de­spite all the de­tec­tive work I had just seen, there was no con­clu­sive an­swer to why this film ex­ists. Alice Through the Look­ing Glass opens with a crack­ing mar­itime scene in which Cap­tain Alice Kingsleigh, com­mand­ing her fa­ther’s ship and in flight from pi­rates, or­ders a dif­fi­cult ma­noeu­vre. When her crew sug­gests it’s im­pos­si­ble for the ship to do what she wants it to do, she says, “You know my view on the word im­pos­si­ble.’’

And so be­gins the in­evitably pos­si­ble se­quel to Tim Bur­ton’s 2010 box of­fice hit Alice in Won­der­land. This time Bur­ton is a pro­ducer, with the di­rect­ing job go­ing to Lewis Car­roll’s coun­try­man James Bobin, who made The Mup­pets and Mup­pets Most Wanted.

Most of the cast are back: Aus­tralia’s Mia Wasikowska is feisty as Alice, Helena Bonham Carter is the large-headed Red Queen and Johnny Depp is the overly made-up and colour­fully at­tired Mad Hat­ter. He’s so over­done that Depp’s act­ing abil­i­ties seem con­strained. The late Alan Rick­man is Ab­solem the cater­pil­lar turned but­ter­fly, and Stephen Fry is the rather unan­i­mated Cheshire cat. The most ex­cit­ing pres­ence is a new­comer, an actor the di­rec­tor worked with on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion: Sacha Baron Co­hen as the half-hu­man, half-clock­work and im­pe­ri­ous Time. His minute-pre­cious mess­ing up of a tea party is a high­light.

While the open­ing real-world scenes are deftly done, the ac­tion (and Alice) soon moves through a look­ing glass into Won­der­land. Though the Red Queen has been ban­ished it seems the Mad Hat­ter is go­ing, well, mad­der. He is head­ing to­wards death’s door, in fact, over the lament of los­ing his fam­ily to the Jab­ber­wocky. Un­til Alice, armed with Time’s time­trav­el­ling Chrono­sphere, plans a res­cue. The ques­tion of whether she can change the past to al­ter the present is in­ter­est­ing, es­pe­cially for younger view­ers.

This is a time-trav­el­ling ad­ven­ture that just about sees out the movie-length dis­tance, helped by a strong se­quence to­wards the end when time rusts to an end. But when it comes to mak­ing us won­der, it’s a bit pre­dictable.

Ryan Gosling and Rus­sell Crowe in The Nice Guys; Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska in Alice Through the Look­ing Glass, be­low

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