TBT: Lethal Weapon (1987)

TBT: Lethal Weapon (1987)

Everyone knows the score when it comes to buddy cop movies. We’ll be introduced to two police officers and will quickly discover that, unfortunately yet hilariously, the pair are polar opposites of each other. No matter where the difference comes from it will create tension as the pair try to come together to bring down the bad guy. It feels like we’ve seen the set-up in every fucking way possible by this point. It’s a timeless classic that writers will continue to come back to. And who should we blame for this? Well, the idea of the odd couple is an incredibly old one but it was the 80s and 90s that really saw the whole buddy cop thing take off. As we all know, one of the greatest uses of the formula comes in a film that just so happens to be celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. It’s also a fucking classic film that I really just wanted to excuse to see after watching The Nice Guys. After all, there’s no such thing as too much Shane Black.

On Tuesday I discussed the fact that, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to distinguish between Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson in my head. I know I’m not a big fan of one of them but always forget which one it is. I think the confusion comes from my love of 80s movies. After all, Mel Gibson is the star of some of my favourite action films so I guess I assume he’s the one I love. He isn’t. He’s just the kind of crazy, anti-Semitic guy who rants about everything these days. Yet, once upon a time, he was the unhinged super cop grieving for his dead wife. Along with Danny Glover and thanks to a sharp script from Shane Black, Mel Gibson has become forever linked with the buddy cop genre. 1987’s Lethal Weapon quickly became the template for modern examples of these types of films and was the first in a long line of great scripts from Black. It’s an important movie in film history but, more importantly, it’s also a really good one.

Even though I’ve never been completely comfortable with the opening. Now I’m not talking about the death of a young woman as she falls from her top floor hotel balcony. No, I’m talking about the moment when Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is surprised by his family whilst he’s taking a bath. It’s so fucking weird. I get that it’s his birthday and they want to celebrate but give the man some privacy. Who wants their kids to sing happy birthday as their dad’s dick is on full show? What kind of kid would be okay with that scenario? It’s never sat right with me and it will always make me cringe.

Still, the moments passes and we quickly learn that Murtaugh is nearing retirement age and is looking for a quiet life. Obviously, that all changes when he’s partnered with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) who, rumour has it, is either crazy or hoping to get sick pay by acting crazy. You see, Riggs has seen shit. He was an expert marksmen during the Vietnam War and is still haunted by his past. To top it all off, his beloved wife has died meaning he’s living alone in an RV. He’s got something of a death wish but fails to finish the job himself. It gives Mel Gibson plenty of chances to stare wildly into people’s eyes and there are several weird and ugly close-ups of his unblinking, crazy expressions. So, why, I hear you ask, is this unhinged man allowed to continue working in law enforcement? Well, he’s just that good a detective, goddammit.

The pair take on the case of the dead girl and discover that the apparent suicide is actually something much darker. The find themselves running from drugs barons and blonde henchmen. Really, the plot isn’t really important. It’s just a generic reason for getting the pair into situations where they must shoot or fight there way out. There’s very little actual detective work but plenty of kidnappings, shoot outs, and terrible martial arts to make up for that. The thing that really matters with Lethal Weapon is Shane Black’s script. He, once again, created a strong and sharp premise that includes plenty of great back and forth between the main pair. It became the staple for the film’s to follow in its footsteps and pushed Black along the path to greatness. There’s action a plenty but this film is also funny and tender. It’s the kind of thing that, in the wrong hands, would just come across as absurd and stupid but, for some reason, it comes together. There is enough energy and drive from all corners that you can’t help but get swept away in the excitement. It’s a fucking classic.

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Nice Guys (2016)

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Nice Guys (2016)

So this review is only a week later than I planned. It’s also been a fair while since I watched the film and, after my family had some sad news today, I really don’t feel like writing this. To be honest, I don’t feel like doing much. But I’ll endeavour to do something. After all, this is a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. I love Shane Black, film noir, and Ryan Gosling so it sounded fucking ideal. The only thing that stopped me? I think it’s my inability to remember whether it’s Russell Crowe or Mel Gibson that I find super annoying. I’m pretty sure it’s Mel Gibson on account of his recent years of craziness and anti-Semitic rants. But then there’s Les Mis to consider. He was hardly a suitable Javert and some of his “singing” was just awful. Still, Russell Crowe seems like a nice man so I think my negative opinions of him just stem from my inability to tell American actors over a certain age apart. There’s was a whole thing when I was younger about Richard Gere and Harrison Ford. I mean they were both grey haired men: how was I supposed to tell the difference? Anyway, I finally watched this film a week or so ago but my intense feelings after finishing Losing It meant that I moved back my scheduled post to this week. Let’s see if I can remember this.

The last time we were treated to a Shane Black movie it was Iron Man 3. For a director most associated with the classic action comedy type films it never seemed like the most obvious career move but, as it turned out, Iron Man 3 pretty much rocked. Well, if you’re willing to forgive the fact they all but ruined the Mandarin but the MCU have never really excelled with their villains. The main thing Black achieved in that film was to adequately make amends for the dismal Iron Man 2, which is, in my humble opinion, the worst film in Marvel’s cinematic history. Yes, I’d even put it after Thor: the Dark World. Turns out there isn’t anything Shane Black can’t do and there isn’t a film around that he can’t find an opportunity to buddy someone up for a few witty interactions.

Still, that was about 3 years ago now so it was high time for a return to form. A return that came thanks to Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Seriously, the story behind how The Nice Guys came to be made is almost a better story than the final film. Black and Anthony Bagarozzi started writing the script way back in 2001 but it never quite fell into place. After a few rewrites, including an attempt to revamp it for TV, the time setting was changed to the 1970s and everything started falling into place. The success of Iron Man 3 and having successfully bagged the film’s two leading stars, Black was finally able to make the film he had been working on for 13 years.

The Nice Guys follows two Los Angeles private eyes in the 1977 as they investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl. Their investigation uncovers connections to a recently deceased porn star and starts to reveal a host of political scandals. The two mismatched detectives first meet up when the teenager in question, Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), pays Jackon Healy (RussellCrowe) to intimidate the men following her into leaving her alone. One of those men, Holland March (Ryan Golsing) is actually being paid by the dead porn star, Misty Mountainss (Murielle Telio), aunt who believes her neice is actually alive. After Healy is attacked by two thugs looking for Amelia, tht two mismatched detectives end up pairing up in order to find her first.

With some help from March’s young daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), we are taken through the seedy underbelly of LA in the 1970s, which was already in a fairly dismal state thanks to the dangerous smog and the prevalence of the pornography industry. As Healy and March get closer to finding Amelia they are quickly put in the sights of hit man, John Boy (Matt Bomer). Can the two overcome their differences and find the girl before John Boy finds them?

The Nice Guys is an enjoyable and funny film that is firmly within the genre and style that Black is comfortable with. Gosling plays the alcohlic, ex-police officer who is still recovering from his wife’s death and trying to do right by his daughter but mostly failing. Crowe plays the tough enforcer who, still bitter from the divorce to his adulterous wife, uses violence to help people and make a quick buck. Neither know what they are getting in for and are unprepared for where it takes them. However, the pair somehow manage to pull together and get the job done. It’s the same kind of thing we’ve seen before but it is still just as enjoyable. Gosling and Crowe work supremely well together and the chemistry between the two detectives is what drives the story forward.

There are plenty of traditional Shane Blackisms and is full of the type of sharp and witty banter than fills all of his films. In terms of story, it’s hardly the most original but it’s undeniable that the 70s setting makes the film. It adds a new dimension to the narrative that a modern setting would have lacked. The Nice Guys is one of the most Shane Black films that Shane Black has ever made and, provided you’re a fan of his style, it’s hugely entertaining ride. I can sort of see why not everyone cared for it and can understand why it failed to make a huge noise upon it’s release. It’s very self-indulgent in a way that some of Black’s films are. However, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It has all you could want from this genre and has a cast that bounce of each other incredibly well. I can’t wait to see Black’s Predator sequel.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Whilst attempting to compile my list of essential Christmas viewing I wrestled with my choices more than my barely read blog really deserved. One of the films that nearly made the grade was this offering from Shane Black. It is another of those films, along with his other offering Lethal Weapon, that stand on the periphery of Christmas films and films that are merely set during the festive season. I ultimately decided that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang didn’t quite count as essential viewing over the holidays but that it deserved some recognition on this site.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangstars Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart, a small-time thief who gets mistaken for an aspiring actor and whisked off to the bright lights of Hollywood. In order to research his new role Harry is paired with  private investigator “Gay” Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) but soon gets himself, and his childhood crush Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), mixed up in crime plot to rival any Hollywood film. Once the bodies start turning up there is simply no stopping them creating more problems for the hapless Harry.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, like Ronseal, does exactly what it says on the tin. The title is the film’s first in-joke and offers the audience a clear sign of exactly what they are in for. It references the working title of the fourth outing for super spy James Bond, Thunderball, and also the phrase critic Pauline Kael picked out as a description of the thrill-seeking and shallow attitude that she felt had infected cinema. Black’s film is a response to both Kael’s criticism and the trigger-happy excitement associated with 007. We are witnessing a film that embraces its shallow, violent nature whilst remaining sarcastic and self-aware enough to show that it has some depth.
The narrative takes the formula that Black helped reinforce in the 80s and beats it senseless. The bloody and delirious remains are a blend of typical detective and action plots whilst serving as a parody of pulp detective novels. It is smart and funny and Black clearly had fun putting together the twisting storylines. It is an homage to film noir set in the bright lights of the modern and superficial LA scene. The script is full of in-jokes, self-awareness and Black’s own scathing criticism of his own industry.
This is one of the main reasons that certain critics have had such a problem with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Black makes all of the right moves but can’t help but point out that he’s doing it for his own devices. Whilst you are watching, you can’t help but feel that Black is sat beside you constantly elbowing you in the ribs and repeatedly whispering “do you get it?” There are moments when the entire film almost collapses under the weight of its own arrogance. Although, I would have to say that Black’s skill as a writer prevent this from happening. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is trashy, witty and clever and I think it has every right to point it out through Harry’s narrative.
The plot, whilst not completely nonsensical, is convoluted. The action is dragged out by the discovery of another body or a piece of vital new information. It is full of those classic moments when our heroes escape momentarily only to be captured once again. It is difficult to keep track of everything you’re supposed to remember and what’s just there to put you off. Ultimately, though, that’s the point. The plot is really a secondary feature. Concentrate on it too and you miss out on the more important matters. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is, above all else, a buddy movie and it is the great dialogue and wonderful performances that really make this film something special. The chemistry between the three main actors is terrific. Val Kilmer triumphs as the openly gay but hard-nosed PI and produces one of his funniest performances. Robert Downey Jr. is able to bring a tender and emotional slant to his smart-alecky one-liners and self-referential narration. Harry is at times idiotic and naïve but you just can’t help but like him and admire his witty and sarcastic dialogue. Without these two at the helm, this film wouldn’t work. The chemistry and the emotional centre provide a soft counterpoint to the self-importance of the script.
Shane Black tried to be clever with a formula that he and other writers had started to wear out and, luckily for him, he has the skill to make it work and breathe new life into these oft seen scenarios. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is an exciting and fast-paced look back to the works of Raymond Chandler but with a postmodern attitude. It is a dark comedy with a sarcastic and brash side. The story takes so many turns along the way that keeping up with everything can prove difficult but that is not enough to detract from everything that Black does get right.