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