Finding Dory Review: Beyond the Sea


Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.

Worst part: The familiar story.

Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).

Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.

There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.

Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.

Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.

Verdict: A fun, pleasant sequel.

Warcraft Review: Dungeons and Dullards


Director: Duncan Jones

Writers: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt

Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: Toby Kebbell as Durotan.

Worst part: The human characters.

Hollywood has had a difficult run of adapting video games to the big screen. Over the past two decades, each entry has become a critical and commercial bomb. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises are enjoyable, but not well made. The ins and outs of even the most popular video game properties appear to be lost on modern movie audiences.

Warcraft has stepped up to the plate, hoping the achieve what Max Payne, Doom, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Hitman (twice) and every fighting game franchise failed to do. Does it succeed? Nope, not even slightly. It merely adds to the long-line of silly, pitiful video game adaptations. It kicks off with the Horde, as the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Nelvin), and his friend, Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), prepare to leave dying orc realm Draenor. Led by warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and dark magic known as the Fel, the orcs leap into human realm Azeroth via portal and soon wreak havoc.

From conception to execution, Warcraft presents all of Hollywood’s worst and craziest impulses. Writer/director, and long-time WOW fan, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has worked on this adaptation for the past few years. Jones’ intentions are admirable, attempting to turn this franchise into the next Lord of the Rings-sized cinematic experience. Indeed, thanks to his unique style, it features several unpredictable twists and turns. In particular, the action sequences are directed with enough physical and emotional impact. Throughout its exhaustive 123-minute run-time, however, those unrequited with the lore will struggle to keep up. Marketed as an origin story, the movie exists entirely to set up a potential franchise. Jones is a little too infatuated with the world of Warcraft, throwing together a plethora of sub-plots, characters, and specifics from the franchise without explanation.

Similarly to Avatar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the movie provides a hands-on look at a whole new civilisation. The orc characters are fascinating, making rational decisions and showcasing their impressive brute strength in equal measure. However, the human characters are reduced to one-note performances and stereotypes. Vikings actor Travis Fimmel fails to make Military commander/lead badass Lothar appealing. Despite vague attempts at humor, he suffocates under the dour, self-serious tone and artificial backdrops. Charming actors including Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both from AMC series Preacher, deliver monotonal, deer-in-headlights performances. The Mage characters are laughable, with Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer providing little else beyond out-of-place American accents. A miscast Paula Patton is buried under green paint and awkward prosthetics as human/orc warrior Garona.

Warcraft marks yet another failed attempt at adapting a video game into the celluloid medium. Despite Jones’ best intentions, the impenetrable exposition, stale performances, and lack of excitement make for one of the year’s most forgettable movies. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed, out on Boxing Day, can break the curse.

Verdict: Another woeful video game adaptation.

The Conjuring 2 Review: London Calling


Director: James Wan

Writers: James Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Farmiga and Wilson.

Worst part: The familiar story structure.

The horror genre has gone through some strange and rocky times over the past several decades. The genre was once a cinematic paradise of trend-setters (Jaws,  The Exorcist) foreign treats (Suspiria) and franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th etc.). Nowadays, thanks largely to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes juggernaut, horror has been swallowed up by reboots and remakes. Thankfully, the Conjuring franchise is here to show its fellow Hollywood counterparts how it’s done.

2013’s The Conjuring was the first movie to receive an R18+ rating based entirely on terror rather than nudity, violence, or explicit language. The original has your classic ghost/demon story – a family is terrorised, a young girl becomes possessed, crucifixes are bared, and the power of Christ compels the spirit back to hell. This time around…all of those elements occur. Set in 1977, this sequel follows a family stuck in lower-class Enfield, North London. Single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) Hodgson struggles to keep everything afloat. Making matters worse, The family – youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), in particular – are hampered by spirits wandering their dilapidated council house. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), made famous by their involvement in the Amityville massacre investigation, are assigned to the Hodgons’ concerning case.

Like many of 2016’s sequels, The Conjuring 2, despite closely resembling the original, falls just short of recapturing the magic. Director/co-writer James Wan, coming back to horror after Furious 7 and before Aquaman, delivers his trademark style of graphic supernatural-thriller filmmaking. The Australian-Malaysian director’s vision is fascinating – introduced with the original Saw flick, built upon with projects like Death Sentence and the Insidious franchise, and perfected with the original Conjuring. Here, however, his direction far outshines the screenplay. Developed by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson), the script stretches standard horror-thriller/ghost story/exorcism conventions over a tiresome 134-minute run-time. This installment is a tad predictable; carrying tropes including an overpopulated family, a rundown house, and questions about faith over from the original.

Wan continually establishes himself as a hyperkinetic and intensifying filmmaker. Free from studio constraints, he lathers every frame with his unique and uncompromising vision. Wan is the jumpscare master – toying with our expectations whilst building to moments of unrequited dread. Joseph Bishara’s relentless score flutters in and out at opportune moments. The composer’s screeches and strums ratchet up the tension throughout its many set pieces. Don Burgess’ impressive camerawork floats through hallways and in between rooms with textbook precision. Wan’s eye for period detail, costume and set design balances between bold and subdued. Adding to the movie’s flair, Farmiga and Wilson blend into the narrative and make for a believable married couple.

Featuring demon nuns, possessed children and Elvis Presley sing-a-longs, The Conjuring 2 is equal parts fun and frightening. Wan’s unique and kinetic direction overshadows the familiar screenplay. His latest blood-curdling jaunt is a contender for 2016’s best horror flick and most successful sequel.

Verdict: A chilling horror-sequel.

Mr. Right Review: Hitman Hysterics


Director: Paco Cabezas

Writer: Max Landis

Stars: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, RZA

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Release date: April 8th, 2016

Distributor: Focus World

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


3/5

Review: Mr. Right

Money Monster Review: Wall Street Woes


Director: Jodie Foster

Writers: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden

Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


3/5

Best part: Clooney’s charm.

Worst part: The third-act twists.

Unquestionably, actor/director Jodie Foster is a Hollywood legend of unrivalled industry recognition. With a sterling reputation in front of and behind the camera, the 53-year-old deserves to spearhead her own projects between now and infinity. However, her critical success – based on unique and interesting projects – has never led to major box-office returns. Old-fashioned hostage-thriller Money Monster won’t attract any new fans.

Money Monster presents the high-ego, low-emotion world of financial television. Host Lee Gates (George Clooney), star of TV phenomenon Money Monster, can influence the stock market’s peaks and troughs. The loud financial guru lives and dies with his wacky persona and highfalutin lifestyle. Longtime show director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has had enough, leaving the studio for one across the street. On her last day, during Money Monster‘s latest live telecast, delivery man Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shuffles into the studio. He pulls a gun, holds Gates hostage, and forces him to wear an explosive-laden vest. Budwell had placed his life savings and deceased mother’s inheritance ($60,000) on IBIS Clear Capital stock after Gates’ endorsement. Now, with a trading algorithm glitch costing investors $800 million overnight, he wants answers.

Money Monster ambitiously blends Dog Day Afternoon‘s intensifying hostage-thriller vibe with Network‘s biting media commentary. Foster, coming off Mel Gibson flop The Beaver, delivers a more approachable and straightforward hostage-thriller than expected. The central premise, staging a hostage crisis for the world to see in high-definition, is certainly prescient. The first half is intriguing, developing Gates and Budwell’s uneasy dynamic with Fenn and the production crew watching on. Foster balances light and dark moments throughout, finding a funny side within the madness. However, The second half becomes a derivative and baffling espionage-thriller devoid of tension. The plot is a jumbled mess – throwing in IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester(Caitriona Balfe)’s investigation of CEO Walt Gamby (Dominic West), bumbling New York police, South Korean programmers, Icelandic hackers, and South African mining strikes.

Money Monster‘s third act delivers several nonsensical twists and turns, lessening the overall impact. More so, Foster pushes a topsy-turvy political agenda. Gates, at first, represents the snobbish and shallow 1% behemoth standing on top of us. However, after some personal confessions, he suddenly turns into the ultimate saviour for the little guy. On the other side of the coin, Budwell kicks off his crusade with a mission – to prove Wall Street jargon cannot pull the wool over our eyes. As his back-story unfolds and antics turn foolish, it becomes difficult to like or feel sorry for him. Thankfully, Clooney is still a charismatic and jazzy leading man. Despite limited screen time together, he and Roberts develop a nice rapport. However, O’Connell delivers an over-the-top performance and laughable ‘New Yawker’ accent.

Sitting between the technical precision and resonance of Inside Man and silly terribleness of Man on a Ledge, Money Monster never transcends or even reinvigorates the hostage-thriller genre. Despite the unexpected little twists, Foster’s latest effort gives strong performers little to work with.

Verdict: A tight yet flawed hostage-thriller.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review: Shell of its Former Self


Director: Dave Green

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec

Stars: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2/5

Best part: The skydiving set-piece.

Worst part: The weak villains.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows encapsulates everything cheap and monotonous about modern Hollywood. It is not simply that it’s rote, or confused, tiresome etc., it’s that there is just nothing special about it. Despite the aim to please the core franchise audience, it fails on the basis of completely ignoring everyone else. This instalment is a poorly-handled and forgettable waste of significant filmmaking resources.

Despite the harsh words, Out of the Shadows is nowhere near as obnoxious and amateurish as the 2014 original/reboot. The original threw together focus-group logic and studio-executive desire into a soulless melting pot. The sequel sees our four reptilian warriors – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – wary of the humans around them. Afraid of exposure, the troupe – with Master Splinter(Tony Shalhoub)’s help – carefully choose opportunities to explore the outside world. Meanwhile, plucky journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) investigates renowned scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry)’s dealings with Shredder (Brian Tee). Shredder, escaping custody with the Foot Clan’s help, hires fellow escaped convicts Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly) to execute a world-destroying plan.

Out of the Shadows cherry picks characters, plot-lines, iconography, and imagery from the TMNT movies, cartoons, comic books, merchandise, and video games. This instalment is strictly for die-hard fans, spending most of its 112-minute run-time on fan service and selling toys. Alongside the turtles and April’s antics, sub-plots including Vern Fenwick(Will Arnett)’s newfound fame, cop-turned-vigilante Casey Jones(Stephen Amell)’s revenge mission, and alien baddie Krang(Brad Garrett)’s assault on Earth rear their ugly heads. The movie never allows its sub-plots or characters to develop beyond one or two dimensions. Its tone is almost unbearable, throwing in too many wacky elements at once. Intriguing ideas, including the turtles’ desire to become human, are overshadowed by bright lights and bubblegum.

Like with most blockbusters, Out of the Shadows‘ screenplay – written by TWO so-called ‘professionals’ – is overstuffed and weightless simultaneously. However, this movie is not for the critics. Developed and marketed for children, the target audience won’t mind the gaping plot-holes or lack of originality. The action is enjoyable, combining state-of-the-art motion-capture performance and technical wizardry. The cargo plane sequence adds several layers to this otherwise lifeless affair. The direction, special effects and humour combine effectively for this all-too-brief rollercoaster ride. The humans are more lifeless and irritating than their CGI counterparts. Fox, once again, delivers a flat performance guided by pure sex appeal. Amell provides a charmless Chris Pratt impression and toothy grin for the female viewers.

Out of the Shadows mines this once-popular franchise to the brink of collapse. For all the bright colours and flashing lights, this sequel proves only one thing – popularity and quality are not the same. The installment embarrasses the redeemable cast, hard-working production crew, and studios.

Verdict: On the brink of extinction.

Now You See Me 2 Review: Limp Trick


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Ed Solomon

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Now You See Me 2 is one of at least 13 unwarranted sequels released in 2016. The 2013 original reached baffling commercial success thanks to…actually, I still have no idea. Now You See Me is a clichéd, preposterous action-heist-thriller with a nonsensical string of third-act twists. Sadly, the sequel is similar in almost every way. The Now You See Me franchise has quickly become more mediocre than almost any other. However, the coupling of an all-star cast and unique premise keeps audiences coming back for more.

The original (spoilers) concluded with a plucky troupe of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) conquering the entertainment world, Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) jailed for stealing millionaire banker Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine)’s funds, and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) pulling the strings. The sequel, picking up one year later, sees fan-girl magician Lula (Lizzy Caplan) replacing Fisher’s character and joining returning Horsemen Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Franco) for the return. Rhodes, now watched by fellow FBI Agent Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), oversees the group on behalf of secret magician society The Eye.

In true sequel fashion, Now You See Me 2 delivers another uber-convoluted plot, more characters, and a larger scope. This time, in a shameless attempt to cash in on the rising Chinese audience, the journey leaps hastily from America to Macau. Ed Solomon’s clichéd screenplay sticks by a collection of heist and action clichés. Predictably, the drama all comes down to a macguffin, set up by a snivelling tech magnate (Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe)), needed to clear the protagonists’ names. The movie immediately rushes through its convoluted plot, muddying the waters with endless exposition about its multitude of plot-points and characters. It struggles to catch up with itself, stuffing an assortment of baffling twists and turns into an indulgent 129 minute run-time.

Like the original, Now You See Me 2 blandly combines illusion, performance and fantastical CGI wizardry. The movie’s set-pieces and gorgeous international locations put the budget to good use. In fact, many sequences feature interesting and thought-provoking concepts. However, director Jon M. Chu (G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 3D) bungles the execution. One action sequence, featuring Rhodes subduing several henchman with slight-of-hand tricks, becomes lost in quick cuts and shaky-cam. However, although ridiculous, the opening and closing set-pieces are blissfully entertaining. The assortment of sexy, young actors and Hollywood’s finest thespians somewhat elevates the material. Jay Chou is suitably charming as a snarky operator of Macau’s oldest magic shop.

Now You See Me 2, by adding more of everything, messily devolves into yet another silly and forgettable tentpole. Like many of this year’s blockbusters (so far), its biggest accomplishment is the ability to disappear without a trace.

Verdict: Yet another unnecessary 2016 sequel.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review: A Depp in the Wrong Direction


Director: James Bobin

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


2/5

Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.

In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance –  comes off as pure self-indulgence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideasTime’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.

Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.

Verdict: A useless, mind-numbing sequel.

Chasing Asylum Review: The Real Truth


Director: Eva Orner

Stars: Mark Isaacs, Martin Appleby, Michael Bachelard, Malcolm Fraser

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Cinema Plus

Country: Australia

Running time: 96 minutes


4½/5

Review: Chasing Asylum

The Nice Guys Review: Pitch Black Comedy


Director: Shane Black

Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


4/5

Best part: Crowe & Gosling’s chemistry.

Worst part: The shaky third act.

Writer/director Shane Black is one of modern Hollywood’s few remaining pioneers from generations past. From his 1980s and 90s jaunts (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) to today, the visionary wordsmith has set the bar in terms of plot, character, tension, and dialogue. After ostensibly being thrown under bus after The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Action Hero‘s commercial failings, his spectacular work on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 brought him back. Tinseltown loves a true underdog story.

His latest venture, The Nice Guys, takes us back to a time of bright colours, questionable antics, and political strife (judging by those qualities, nothing much has changed). Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the movie chronicles underground lowlife Jackson Healy(Russell Crowe)’s tiresome existence. Busting heads for a living, Healy’s post-divorce, cheap lifestyle takes a severe toll. Meanwhile, sketchy private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has crawled into a bottle after his wife’s death. Prone to drinking and scamming helpless elderly clients, March is a bad guy pretending to do good. His 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) is beginning to despise her old man. After an unfortunate run-in, Healy and March must team up to solve the head-scratching mystery of missing girl Amelia (Margaret Qualley).

The Nice Guys combines buddy-comedy’s good-natured thrills, neo-noir’s lingering hopelessness, and Black’s shocking sense of humour into a riveting adventure. Admittedly, it’s nitty-gritty plot-threads involving murder, the pornography scene, and Detroit car industry muddy the waters in its second and third acts. Overshadowing the slower moments, the first act sets up the intensifying atmosphere and Black’s idiosyncratic style. The writer/director lives and dies by sharp tonal shifts, with every frame unapologetically pushing violence and sex appeal. Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi craft a shaggy-dog script chock-a-block with funny lines, intriguing plot-points and fun characters.

Black, in all three trips behind the camera, proves himself as one of today’s more meaningful and bold filmmakers. Black dives into a 70s aesthetic of pastel patterns, sleaze, and unadulterated flair. The movie’s biggest set-pieces, in true neo-noir/buddy-cop fashion, showcase the glitz and ‘glamour’ of the era’s pastel interiors, porn parties, and car conventions. Touching on 70s hangups (i.e. smog, crushing political corruption), Black never drops the snarky attitude. Provided with a sensory feast and meaty material, Crowe and Gosling develop crackling chemistry whilst hurling themselves into slapstick shenanigans. Rice delivers strong dramatic shades to balance out her co-stars’ wacky antics. Genre fans will also enjoy appearances from familiar faces Matt Bomer, Keith David, and Kim Basinger.

Featuring big laughs, over-the-top stunts, anthropomorphized bees, foul-mouthed kids, nudity, and shocking violence, The Nice Guys is anything but friendly. This neo-noir/buddy-comedy is a lean, mean ode to a bygone era. Its writer/director and spectacular cast deliver one of the year’s most entertaining popcorn flicks.

Verdict: Shane Black in rip-roaring form.