Pectoral-happy power couple Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are barging their way into UK cinemas for action buddy comedy The Nice Guys. This mix of knockabout antics and crime, set against a sleazy 1970s backdrop, has yielded decent reviews (we here at THN loved it), while at the same time adding to the bulging genre of films where men stumble around trying to see the wood for the trees.
When it comes to a mystery, it pays to send men equipped with both fists and wits to sort it out. There’s something about the traditional gumshoe, or the bloke who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, that lends itself to this situation. Whether a lone operator or, better still, a spiky partnership, it makes that journey all the more entertaining, especially when you throw in aspects that make guys easily distracted, such as women and alcohol.
Join us as we wake bleary-eyed at our desk, take a swig from the bottle of whisky in the filing cabinet and pull our fedora down against the LA sunshine, venturing out to investigate the very best the movie world has to offer when it comes to the male, the murky and the mysterious…
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
1967 saw a powder keg of a scenario brought to the screen by director Norman Jewison, and at its centre was one of cinema’s most incendiary and groundbreaking partnerships: Sidney Poitier as progressive detective Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger as bigoted Mississippi police chief Bill Gillespie.
With a high profile murder case on the go, Steiger made the brilliant mistake of detaining tourist Poitier on suspicion of the crime. When it transpired the detainee was in fact an off-duty investigator, the curmudgeonly racist employed him to help track down the killer. The pair went on to form a reluctant alliance, delving into a prickly hotbed of prejudice and close-knit community secrets.
The characters (created by novelist John Ball) were reunited in a long-running TV show of the same name, though the leads didn’t return. However Poitier’s protagonist starred in two big screen Tibbs-centric sequels.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
Jeff Bridges‘ dazed and confused amateur sleuth Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski became our guide through the Coen Brothers‘ hard-boiled maze of Chandleresque LA surrealism in 1998. By the end of the story he was none the wiser. His head hurt and so did ours, but our sides were thoroughly split from laughing.
Seeking recompense from a local business titan after his carpet was wrongly urinated on, “The Dude” found himself charged with locating the man’s porn-star-slash-trophy-bride (Tara Reid), accompanied by his bowling buddies – disturbed Vietnam vet Walter (John Goodman) and timid Donny (Steve Buscemi). Along the way they encountered such warped examples of the male species as Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), as well as some questionable cases of the female variety (via Julianne Moore‘s hectoring and pretentious Maude Lebowski).
The movie entered the cult bracket and, since the Coens aren’t known for their interest in sequels, sadly that was the last we saw of Bridges and company. Despite the lack of a narrative continuation his outlook on life has managed to live on, through the unexpected offshoot religion “Dudeism”.
A year earlier moviegoers had witnessed another tangled neo-noir web of crime in the City of Angels. This time the action went back several decades, for Curtis Hanson‘s adaptation of James Ellroy‘s dark saga of law enforcement in Hollywood. Film stars, fist-wielding cops and shark-like journalists all rubbed shoulders.
The unlikely trio of neat ‘n tidy newbie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), growly hard nut Bud White (Russell Crowe again) and pampered TV police show advisor Frank Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) began to realize things weren’t quite as upstanding at the LAPD as they liked to think. Between them they uncovered a network of corruption, with their boss Captain Smith (James Cromwell) at its rotten core. Kim Basinger memorably played a Tinseltown prostitute, and is reunited with Crowe for The Nice Guys.
Like In The Heat Of The Night the scenario went to TV, starring Kiefer Sutherland among others. But that particular investigation never got beyond pilot stage. Hanson’s sleaze-mired Oscar winner remains the definitive screen version.
KISS KISS BANG BANG
The Nice Guys writer/director Shane Black is no stranger to testosterone-fuelled team ups. In 2005 he took former Batman Val Kilmer and future Iron Man Robert Downey Jr and put them together for another Movieland-set romp involving a dead girl and a mystery.
Charged by Michelle Monaghan‘s actress Harmony with finding out why her sister committed suicide, Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr) and Perry van Shrike (Kilmer) entered a world of smoke, mirrors, sex and violence in a bid to get to the bottom of the murky matter. Of course things weren’t what they seemed – Lockhart was actually a burglar who’d accidentally wangled his way into Hollywood, and van Shrike the genuine snooper helping him with his role.
The result brought Lethal Weapon creator Black back to the forefront, gave Kilmer his best part in years and lit the blue touchpaper under superhero Downey Jr. It was a project that cleared the cobwebs for all their careers.
THE NICE GUYS
Black is hoping another mismatched male combo will get asses on seats for this hunky comedy detective flick. And if you’re looking for two actors who can get the female half of the population interested, you could do a lot worse than Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. In a way they’re kind of the ultimate odd couple. The star of Gladiator meeting the leading man of Drive? Both have serious reputations but seem to exist in different movie spheres.
The story sees them initially as enemies. Nattily-dressed private dick Holland March (Gosling) is looking into the disappearance of Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), but the pursuit gets complicated when Amelia takes on heavy for hire Jackson Healy (Crowe) to “persuade” March to back off. It isn’t long before both men have to join forces against the criminal underworld, who have their own sinister reasons for wanting to get hold of the wayward girl. Can Crowe and Gosling wrap things up before they get stamped on…?
With a publicity tour that’s been more engaging than most due to the stars’ natural awkwardness toward each other and a helmer with proper action comedy credentials, it seems The Nice Guys isn’t going to have a problem attracting men and women alike. Will it be a dead cert for box office greatness, or simply wind up deceased? That’s a question not even Philip Marlowe could answer.
This feature first appeared on THN.