There’s a scene in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys where Ryan Gosling is sitting on a toilet and proceeds to hastily brandish a gun when Russell Crowe arrives into the restroom unannounced. Gosling fumbles around, whacking the stall door back and forth attempting to simultaneously; stand up, draw his gun, retain a cigarette in his mouth and pull his trousers up. Its a comedic set piece and its humourous. Its a gag about a toilet after all – it must be funny. Except its not. Most likely a vast majority of the movie-going public have seen this sequence in the trailers more than once. By the time you see this in context, it’ll have lost it’s mojo. In fact, The Nice Guys gives off the waft of a comedy that managed to lose it’s mojo without ever having any to begin with.
Cut to a modestly aerial view of George Clooney perching himself on a toilet. The barmy television host barks out orders and quick wit to his right hand woman and studio director, Julia Roberts behind the door. What unfolds is a no-fuss set of efficient movements that follows Clooney and Roberts as they playfully exchange insults in a West Wing walk-and-talk towards the bright lights of the studio. The carefully crafted sequence by director Jodie Foster is teeming with purpose and understated direction. To conclude the toilet parallels, Shane Black’s The Nice Guys threw together a mildly amusing set of movements in a toilet but in the vacuous promotion squeezed out whatever comedic elements that could have resonated. Whilst Foster’s opening sequence in a toilet has the optimum level of quick dialogue and superior acting guile, to blow Gosling’s fumbling out of the water. That says a lot, especially seen as Money Monster isn’t even a comedy.
Promotion for The Nice Guys began as early as the beginning of the year. Piggybacking on unlikely pairings of the past, Warner Brother’s YouTube pitted Crowe and Gosling against one another, to reinforce both their own and their characters incompatibility. Viewers saw the duo flanked on a psychiatrist’s couch, voicing their irritations with the other in a humorous series of videos. In a ploy to appeal to the masses by demonstrating their inability to get along, the spoof videos worked. It was clever and fresh. Both Gosling and Crowe’s reputation as real life Hollywood Nice Guys added aptly to it. The film itself however, fails to deliver.
Its not just the messy, washed out dialogue that taints Shane Black’s film. The plot is annoyingly confusing. It focuses on two LA private eyes, Crowe is the town thug that will beat up anyone on demand. Gosling is the down-on-his-luck private detective who’s best gig is assuring pensioners that he will do everything in his capacity to track down their dead husbands (even the ones sitting in an urn on the mantelpiece). By a twist of fate the unlikely pair end up joining forces to track down a murder trail, beginning with the death of a porn star in a car crash. This, is all fine except again, its not. The name of two girls (supposedly characters of considerable interest) are disclosed early into the film, but with little repetition of their importance or indeed difference between the two I spent most of my time throughout weighing up which one they were talking about. As Crowe and Gosling fumble around in the dark, bumping into things in trying to follow the trail, comedy is few and far between and this is where it falls short. If the story was entirely nonsensical perhaps it would have come across better. Black’s script is caught between a rock and a hard place; neither the ‘comedy’ or the drama emerges as the dominant factor, leaving mediocrity of both in it’s wake.
The real problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It was of course promoted as a comedy, but the audience is unsure of what is a comedic routine or not. When said comedy does appear, it is dire. Close to the end of the film, Gosling is leaning over a bar. He enquires with the barman and he retaliates with something to the effect of ‘They’re killer bees. You know why they call them killer bees don’t you? They’ll kill you.’ Perhaps in beginner’s English-through-Mandarin, they could use this as a way to demonstrate how not to converse, particularly with a play on words as ludicrously dumb as this. The name of the bees speaks for itself and so does the vast emptiness of Black’s script.
The sets are brash but interesting and the aesthetics carry the film. Credit where credit is due, they certainly hit the nail on the head in regards to harking back to life in the 1970’s. Crowe is admittedly the one redemptive factor of the film and this should not be taken away from him. But Gosling’s performance is disappointing, which is quite uncharacteristic of him. Ryan Gosling is a notoriously cool guy, but here he is playing a washed up, loser PI with an unnecessary moustache. Like the relentless fog over Los Angeles, his coolness seeps into his character. Its an unusual complaint to make, but is a taster to demonstrate why Shane Black’s film is wholly uncredible.
In Money Monster, Foster artfully sets up the studio atmosphere, allowing Clooney to march out to his haven beneath the lights, powered almost exclusively on his ego. Julia Roberts is the studio director tutting playfully behind but clearly knows the presenter better than anyone. The stage is quite literally set for the daily stock tips show to commence. Foster doesn’t mess around and through quick movements and foreground obstructions she captures O’Connell’s sinister arrival onto the stage with a similar anticipatory nuance to Jaws.
Jack O’Connell is the hot-headed captor that lost out on a sure fire stock tip in a big way. A fate sealed by Clooney’s character when he heavily advocated these particular shares in a previous episode. O’Connell holds the studio hostage and demands a freeze on the feed whereby his words are echoed out onto every television set in the world. Parallels with his character Cooke from Skins will inevitably be drawn but here he exudes a more sophisticated erratic anger. While he may be rashly using weapons and threats, he seeks not unreasonably for answers rather than monetary compensation. In a realtime way, he is mad as hell and on a world stage demands an answer we can all understand. He refuses to accept the PR spin that the sudden plummet in the value of the stock was merely down to a ‘glitch’ in the system.
Perhaps a minor flaw would be the plot progression. Like a RomCom, they either get together or they don’t, or a boxing movie they either win or lose, a hostage situation is much the same. Clooney either gets out of it or he doesn’t. But the plot takes an unexpected twist that is quite ambiguous to the point where it’s only a semi-hostage situation. Whilst the script is witty and agile, the plot may suffer from being a tad oversimplified.
Clooney is the shining light, even when making a complete fool of himself with zany dance moves the role fits like a glove. In Money Monster’s promotion he’s shied away from referencing his own father who made a living out of being that goofy television host in Kentucky many years ago. Balancing the duality of the abrasive and arrogant television host with the lonely man looking for an ounce of redemption in a desperate situation, Clooney strikes gold.
Money Monster is many things, but most notably a testament to Jodie Foster’s talent. Her forty year career in the film industry has been evidently compartmentalised into a skill whereby she can draw on her tacit knowledge of a film set to convey to an audience what she wants them to see in the way we want to witness it. After the Nice Guys, I left not sure what I’d seen. There were far too many empty references to supplant depth evident, and equally not enough ludicrosity to warrant a strong comedy. It was left swirling, confused in limbo. In that state, it really would be better down the toilet.