It's been a distressingly long time since Shane Black's last crime thriller, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. In the meantime we had a mixture of his usual material under all the blockbuster spectacle of Iron Man 3, but this is more in line with what I'd be expecting; a detective plot full of silly lines and idiosyncratic characters. I suppose the problem is that back in 2005 the formula didn't bring in enough of a return at the box office, and unfortunately the same is true here. Call it what you will, bad luck, poorly planned release dates, or lack of audience buzz. Maybe in another decade we'll get a third one of these types of stories. Such a wait is not a prospect that I welcome, since this one of 2016's best releases.
The casting choices might not seem like the most obvious for a film with a comic tone, but the central duo works surprisingly well. Healy (Crow) is a guy who hurts people for money, though he tries to take offers that are morally righteous - breaking arms for a good cause... if they pay is right. March (Gosling) on the other hand is a private investigator that takes what he can in between booze fuelled nights (and days) while making a minimal effort to look after his daughter. The characterisation is central to the film, the title of which is clearly part of the joke. The buddy movie clichés are nothing new of course but it's done with enough flair that it's never an issue. Initially their respective jobs cause a violent first meeting, but as the mystery plot about a dead adult film star and a missing girl unravels they begin to work together.
The supporting cast are also fun with Keith David as a hired thug (still up for some They Live style brawling it seems) and Angourie Rice as March's daughter, who would probably wear out her welcome if it wasn't for a solid performance and some amusing moments. Generally speaking they go through one mess to the next trying to figure out how the death in the opening is linked to the missing girl and her mother (Kim Basinger) who's government ties involved her with the auto trade. If there's a weak link it's probably the detective plot which isn't particularly focused and doesn't come to a strong conclusion. But in a way it's never that important, the set pieces and sticky situations come along so quickly that the pacing just carries it all along.
The action beats are mostly shoot outs and punch ups, but they hit the mark in between the more comedic sequences. The best moments of course are where these two collide, particularly an anti-climactic elevator joke that builds towards violence but then veers off at the last moment. These sort of irreverent additions add a lot to the tone, in a story that includes an assassin who looks like Richard Thomas from The Waltons. The two heroes fumble their way through in spite of March's drinking problems and Healy's violent tendencies, and they have a good time playing off each other funny / serious side of the duo.
Their recreation of L.A. also adds plenty of flavour. It's a sleazy 1970s city full of polluted air where billboards are plastered with the names of pornography directors in between the neon and the advertisements for things like Jaws 2. Disco groups play and barely clothed dancers perform at seedy parties. Elsewhere long zooms through a dilapidated Hollywood sign into the smog clouded streets; the technical flourishes are pretty neat. A couple of establishing shots look a little fake but in general it's a good recreation of another time that fits the genre like a glove. However this is a movie where the parts they get down on paper are the key ingredient. The script is what makes it work, the characters are interesting and the gags are funny. The storyline might not quite click into place as much as the other pieces, but if anything it warrants repeat viewing.
THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)
In a shocking turn of events a remake of a perfectly good film turns out to be well worth seeing. It's not as zany or musical as the original Disney animation from the '60s but there's a lot to enjoy just the same. Some of the voice acting choices are less convincing than the exceptional computer animation, but it's not that distracting... even thought Bill Murray and Christopher Walken are very conspicuous behind their new furry visages. While many key story moments are repeated there's just enough extra material to keep things interesting, and Mowgli and friends are fleshed out just a bit more. While a few songs are still present it has a certain amount of realism mixed into the proceedings too. In particular the villain of the piece, man eating tiger Shere Khan is pretty threatening considering the target audience. The jazz sensibilities are mostly absent but this is still an engaging adventure with plenty of personality. Baloo doesn't dance about with a coconut on his face and the elephants don't get a comedy skit, but they still manage to do something that still works as part old and new.