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Face-Off: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang vs. The Nice Guys

Nice to see you again, fans of the cinema! This is the Face-Off, where two movies enter and both movies leave, but one leaves in a slightly better light. Yes, here we take two competitors and compare their key elements and see who comes out the champion. It's a fierce competition that results in blood, tears, and online arguments, but the more brutal the battle, the sweeter the victory.

Director Shane Black is back in theaters with THE PREDATOR, the latest entry in the long-running franchise. The man doesn't have the deepest well of directorial work, but his two best works are easily KISS KISS BANG BANG and THE NICE GUYS, two crime stories with an abundance of laughs and assholes. At the center of them are incredible leading performers work with a smart script from Black, and both have their loyal fans. They're films that ooze with the filmmaker's signature style, and now we'll see which of the two is the best of Black.

As a film fan it may be a little tough to pick a favorite of these two exquisite flicks, but we will have to choose a winner by the end of this, so strap in and just know we wish we could give a crown to both. But that's not how crowns work around here!

THE ENSEMBLE
Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart
Val Kilmer as Gay Perry
Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Faith Lane
Corbin Bernsen as Harlan Dexter
Larry Miller as Dabney Shaw
Shannyn Sossamon as Pink Hair Girl
Angela Lindvall as Flicka
Dash Mihok as Mr. Frying Pan
Rockmond Dunbar as Mr. Fire
Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy
Ryan Gosling as Holland March
Angourie Rice as Holly March
Margaret Qualley as Amelia Kuttner
Keith David as Older Guy
Beau Knapp as Blueface
Yaya DaCosta as Tally
Matt Bomer as John Boy
Lois Smith as Mrs. Glenn
Murielle Telio as Misty Mountains
and Kim Basinger as Judith Kuttner
DIRECTION
After writing scripts in Hollywood for years - most notably the first LETHAL WEAPON movie - Black finally got a chance to direct with his unique take on the hardboiled, noir genre, KISS KISS BANG BANG. Right out of the gate Black shows a strong knack for working behind the camera, establishing BANG BANG as a movie that calls to mind the genre it's playing with (sporting a neon-soaked look and Downey-led narration) that at the same time has its own voice and self-awareness. Black leans into his own sensibilities and made the movie he wanted to make, and the end result is something that both looks and sounds like the quintessential Shane Black movie.
With NICE GUYS Black got to work with a lot more money than KISS KISS (a $50 million budget, to be exact), which the studio probably trusted him with after he directed one of the biggest movies ever with IRON MAN 3. What he does with that budget is take the "buddy cop" angle (though the leads aren't quite cops) and lets it loose in a '70s-era environment filled with bright lights, sex and coke parties, bad clothing and feathered hair. What I love about Black's work here is that even though he's working with more money - which means more scrutiny - he still got a movie out of it that feels like something all his own, getting to play with a tired formula and lace it with blood and dark, self-aware humor - much like KISS KISS. If this movie loses this round it's only because when I watch KISS KISS I feel like I'm getting the best of Black's personality, getting away with things he probably wouldn't be able to nowadays.
SCRIPT
Funny enough, KISS KISS actually started as a romantic comedy. After doing THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, Black wanted to try and do a straight romantic comedy but later admitted that after struggling with the concept he came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be a real movie unless there was some murder in there. Thus we got KISS KISS BANG BANG, the title of which refers to the movie being half romance and half murder mystery. The movie indeed juggles these two elements proficiently, finding the character Harry Lockhart reuniting with his high school crush, Harmony Faith Lane, only for the two of them to get swept up in a tale of murder and deception with another private investigator, Gay Perry. Black's script is filled with black, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes politically incorrect humor delivered perfectly by the main cast. While Black's script does a great job of showcasing the realistic, three-dimensional characters the story does suffer a tad when bouncing between romance and murder mystery. As well, the elements of a classic noir story are all there, and are the kind you would find in a dime novel with a title like "You Can Never Die Again Twice." Perhaps that's why that aspect of the story never feels as fresh as the rest of the movie, even though the overall execution on screen is brilliant.
Much like KISS KISS the script for THE NICE GUYS was something much different when Black and Anthony Bagarozzi started writing in the early '00s. The final product was a fresh take on the buddy comedy angle, finding two assholes (an enforcer-for-hire and a drunk PI) embroiled in a search for a missing girl that starts in the porn business and finds its way going all to the top of the government. This story is cleaner and more focused than the one in KISS KISS, and one that resonates more with the modern state of things, like climate change and the auto industry. What propels the story are the two fantastic lead characters in Jackson Healy and Holland March, two incredibly flawed men who begin to sort out some of the shit in their lives over the course of the mystery. That's what I like best about the story and how the characters were written. Their different behaviors have unique effects on how the story plays out, and yet the movie never feels lost in keeping both of them center stage. Of course, there's the humor we should all expect from a Black movie, which often moves between satire and physical comedy, and when brought to life by Gosling and Crowe makes this one of the funniest movies of the decade.
NOTABLE BITS & LINES

How Harry Got to the Party

Harry: [narrating] "Anyway, by now you may wonder how I wound up here. Or, maybe not. Maybe you wonder how silly putty picks shit up from comic books. The point is, I don't see another Goddamn narrator, so pipe down."

Getting His Ass Kicked

Gay Perry

Perry: He called her a... well, a bad word. [pause] Cunt."

Harmony's Story

Harry: "Still gay?"

Perry: "Me? No. I'm knee-deep in pussy. I just like the name so much, I can't get rid of it."

The Lady in the Lake

Perry: "I call it my Faggot Gun."

Harry: "Because..."

Perry: "Because it's only good for a couple shots and then you gotta drop it for something better."

Perry: "My $2000 ceramic Vektor my mother got me as a special gift? You threw in the lake next to the car. What happens when they drag the lake? You think they'll find my pistol. Jesus. Look up "idiot" in the dictionary. You know what you'll find?"

Harry: "A picture of me?"

Perry: "No! The definition of the word idiot, which you fucking are!"

The Spider

Harry: "Sleep bad. Otherwise it makes it seem like the mechanism that allows you to sleep..."

Perry: "What, fuckhead? Who taught you grammar? Badly's an adverb. Get out. Vanish."

Girl in the Shower

Perry: "No, my question, I get to go first: Why in pluperfect hell would you pee on a corpse?"

Harry: "I didn't intend to! It's not like I did it for kicks!"

Ditching the Body

The Finger

Christmas Party

Harry: "Do you think I'm stupid?"

Perry:" I don't think you'd know where to put food at, if you didn't flap your mouth so much. Yes I think you're stupid."

Shootout in the Park

Harry Kills

Investigating the Clinic

Perry: "You don't get it, do you? This isn't "good cop, bad cop." This is fag and New Yorker. You're in a lot of trouble."

One Shot

Shock Therapy

Harry: "Thank god you had a gun in there; for a second I thought it was like a gay thing, like, somehow you guys could do that."

One Final Shootout

The Mystery Solved

Perry: [to the audience] "Thanks for coming, please stay for the end credits, if you're wondering who the best boy is, it's somebody's nephew, um, don't forget to validate your parking, and to all you good people in the Midwest, sorry we said fuck so much."

Misty Crashes

Jackson Heeley

Jackson: "Marriage is buying a house for someone you hate."

Holland March

World's Worst Break In

Holland: "...that's a lot of blood."

A Bad Intro

Holland: "Jesus Christ! One at a time!"

Janet: "You took the Lord's name in vain."

Holland: "No I didn't, Janet. I found it very useful actually. Ok, Janet?"

Partners

The Chets of the World

Holland: "Fucking Chet."

The Porn Party

Holly: "Dad, there's like whores here and stuff."

Holland: "Sweetheart, how many times have I told you? Don't say 'and stuff.' Just say 'Dad, there are whores here.'"

Jackson: "Jackson Healy: You can't smell?"

Holland: "Yeah."

Jackson: "You're a detective, and you can't smell?"

Taking a Tumble

Jackson: "You were in the pool?"

Holland: "Yeah."

Jackson: "Why?"

Holland: "I had to question the mermaids. What were you doing while I was working?"

Killing Blueface

Holland: "You know who else was just following orders? Adolf Hitler."

The Diner Story

An Awkward Elevator Ride

Catching Amelia

Jessica: "Yeah, sorry, Mr. March. My sister kicked us out. She's having a guy over."

Holland: "Your sister's such a slut."

Jessica: "Yeah, I know."

John Boy Unleashed

Holland: "So you're telling me you made a porno where the plot is the point?"

Tally Slips Up

Fall From the Roof

The Big Climax

Holland: "Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt."

Jackson: "People got hurt."

Holland: "I'm saying, I think they died quickly. So I don't think they got hurt."

The Nice Guys

THE CRIME SOLVERS
At the core of the movie is Harry Lockhart. A bit of a deadbeat when we first meet him, he's thrown into a scenario way out of his depth and comfort zone, and across the movie he goes on a journey of self-discovery, learning how to follow through with something in his life, for once. Along the way, he meets a no-nonsense PI in Perry and the old girl-next-door, Lane, both of whom have no trouble taking him to task. Together they make a tremendous, hilariously dysfunctional trio: Monaghan is capable, intelligent, independent and sexy as hell, and refuses to sit around and play the damsel card; Kilmer is pitch perfect as Perry, a tough, seasoned, gay PI who will kick down the door, shoot down everyone, save your ass and then call you a piece of shit for making him do all of that and; Downey does some of his best work as Harry, a total fuck up who is completely in over his head, but who is still affable and has a clueless charm. As I said, this is Harry's movie at its core, but together they're fantastic characters who send up tropes of the genre, all brought to life by three excellent performers.
As great as the previous three are, in terms of a real unit the pairing of Gosling and Crowe - and even the brilliant Angourie Rice - is just too perfect. It's hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. Crowe doesn't miss the beat as the tough-as-nails Jackson, a man with a moral code and who has a sweetness underneath the deep layers of brutality and indifference. As for Gosling, he takes on the role of the irresponsible drunk, a man who is likelier to stiff an old lady than to actually solve a crime, and who is just as childish as he is stubborn. The heart of the unit is Rice, the sweet, doe-eyed, fearless young lady who forces them to see the better sides of themselves. The back and forth between Gosling and Crowe is the stuff of comedy gold, and they give their characters a depth that makes you want to root for them, even when they're being total pricks.
PLAYING WITH THE GENRE
The noir genre is one of the most iconic of all in film, with countless classic amongst its ranks, filled with its own brand of iconography. You got the grizzled, jaded detective, the femme fatale, the narrations, the dark corners and seedy streets, the murder, deception and betrayal. It's a perfect recipe for great entertainment, and KISS KISS plays with all of it and turns everything on its head. The lead is a bit of a screw-up and needs the assistance most of the way, the woman takes matters into her own hands and the murder and deception is, well, murder and betrayal (If it ain't broke don't fix it). A tongue-in-cheek sense of humor wraps it all together, including a narration that really gets into some DEADPOOL-level fourth-wall breaking, and each character utilizes opportunities to belittle and berate each other. We'll get plenty of neo-noir homages and spoofs, but few of them will ever be able to do everything with as much humor and style as KISS KISS BANG BANG.
In the late '80s, Black helped define the modern buddy movie with LETHAL WEAPON, which thus inspired countless imitations that paled in comparison. It's benefitting, then, that Black be the guy to take it all back and put yet another spin on a worn genre, proving just how genius it can be when you have the talent to pull it off. Black plays with lots of the tropes and trappings of the genre, from the investigation of the crime, which the duo manages to screw up almost every step of the way, all the way to the climax. A notable example is when Tally is holding the duo at gunpoint and Holly, in an attempt to surprise her, throws cold coffee on Tally, thinking it was hot. A funny moment that plays on the "convenient escape" idea, which gets another laugh when Tally slips on the coffee and goes down, leading them to calmly grab their shit and walk out. Shane Black should be the only one to do buddy movies from now on, is what I'm getting at here.
SIGHTS, SOUNDS & STYLE
Thanks to the cinematography by Michael Barrett and the production design by Aaron Osborne the movie exudes slick neo-noir vibes, which matched with charismatic performances makes KISS KISS BANG BANG and undeniably, eternally cool film. It's like the movie DRIVE, but with less dramatic ambiance and frowning. That seedy, crime-thiller score by John Ottman is great too, and goes a long way in grounding the movie in the genre's roots.
Placing the movie in the '70s was a smart idea. Had the movie taken place now it still would've been entertaining, but it would've had much less personality. The '70s-era LA looks a bit dirty and gross, as it surely did back then, but the sights of the Comedy Store in its early days, with names like Tim Allen and Robert Klein on the marquee, is too cool to ignore. The movie has a more straightforward, period look compared to sleek, atmospheric color palette of KISS KISS, but the setting makes the movie standout among its peers nonetheless. And John Ottman, back at it again with a slick score to set the mood.
AWARDS, PRAISE & MONEY
Golden Schmoes:
    Nominated:
    Best Comedy

**5 wins and 16 nominations (per IMDb)**

Praise

Money:
    $4 million domestic ($15 million global)
Golden Schmoes:
    Won:
    Most Underrated Movie of the Year
    Nominated:
    Best Comedy
    Best Director: Shane Black
    Best Screenplay
    Best Actor: Ryan Gosling
    Breakthrough Performance: Angourie Rice
    Best Line: "You know who else was just following orders? Adolf Hitler."

**8 wins and 34 nominations (per IMDb)**

Praise

Money:
    $36 million domestic ($62 million global)
THE NICE GUYS

KISS KISS BANG BANG is an amazing movie that cemented Shane Black as a gifted director with an uncompromising voice that was refined over years of writing. He knows how to play with certain genres and write compelling characters, each showcasing his unique sense of dark humor. KISS KISS has all of this on display, but THE NICE GUYS has all that and a bit more going for it on a few fronts. For example, the script is a bit more focused and gets more out of the movie's perfectly cast ensemble, letting them play in a big '70s sandbox of sex, blood, and madness. Not to mention the movie is one of the funniest movies of the decade, sporting some of the best work yet from Gosling, and the best work in years from Crowe. KISS KISS has the style over NICE GUYS, but the latter is just a much more well-rounded movie that's just as funny, just as well-acted, and just as much a joy to watch again and again.

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