Scraping the bottom of the streaming service barrel? Already rewatched all the favorites three times and out of ideas where to look next? We’ve got you covered. Every week (hopefully), Streaming Secrets will showcase an underseen or underrated movie that is available for free, or at least for no extra charge on one of the many streaming services that you probably already pay for.
Previously on Streaming Secrets: Rudderless | Warrior | Micheal Clayton | The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
After a few weeks off, we’re back with another edition of Streaming Secrets. And this time it’s our first double feature! Only one of these movies is currently available on a streaming service at no additional charge, so maybe I’m bending the rules a little bit. But like I said all the way back in the Rudderless post, nobody’s paying me to keep things consistent, so you can deal with it. And if you enjoy one of these movies, I really think you’ll like the other, so I might as well put both on your radar.
Looking at the titles above (and if you haven’t read them or watched any of those movies, click the links! Four great movies just waiting to be streamed), there’s something that’s missing. We’ve got a music-centered tearjerker, a moving but serious sports drama, a complex and morally conflicted legal thriller, and a cinematically stunning but severe western. In the words of the legendary Heath Ledger in a not-so-secret performance: why so serious? What we’re missing here is some pure, unadulterated fun. And that’s what I’m bringing you today.
What are we watching?
This week we’re watching two movies written and directed by Shane Black: The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Both are R-rated noir/comedies set in LA full of conspiracy, intrigue, and plenty of laughs.
Black was a well-known Hollywood writer long before these movies were ever on the map. From the first two Lethal Weapon movies in the 80’s through The Last Boy Scout and The Last Action Hero in the 90’s, he was one of Hollywood’s best and most in-demand writers, especially when it came to action movies. In the 2000’s, he cashed in the accumulated credibility to start directing movies based on his own scripts, including the two we’re talking about today.
The Nice Guys
We’ll start with the film that’s streaming for free — one of my absolute favorite movies to rewatch. The Nice Guys flaunts a sitcom-level joke pace, charisma to spare, and a gilded Los Angeles with beautiful people and bright colors thinly concealing the corruption and pollution hiding in plain sight. But most importantly, it relies on your desire to watch its stars stumble into and out of danger, and their ability to make you chuckle along the way.
There’s nothing shocking in yet another impressive, gruff, and physically imposing performance by Russell Crowe. He just gets the opportunity to do it in circumstances and with lines that are a bit more humorous than his usual fare. His co-star’s turn, however, is something of a revelation. Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, a private investigator with questionable morals and an unquestionable drinking problem, to the extent that he needs to use his 13-year-old daughter (an endearing and entertaining Angourice Rice, who would later appear in the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies) as his driver between client meetings.
The role gives Gosling the chance to engage in physical comedy in a way that none of his previous movies had allowed. He even goes full Costello for a minute, miming a silent scream and gasping for breath while motioning to an Abbot that isn’t there. Sure, Gosling is more than capable of playing the stoic leading man in more serious fare such as La La Land or Drive, but watching him in The Nice Guys makes you think he might be just as comfortable starring in a Paul Feig comedy as he is working for Damien Chazelle.
Oh, you want to hear about the plot? Well, suffice to say there’s a dead girl. Isn’t there always? Circumstances conspire to throw March and Crowe’s Jackson Healy together into an investigation that unravels a sinister scheme involving a shady film industry, major corporations, political players, gangsters, and hitmen. Complications ensue.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is the first movie that Black directed, and it’s apparent for a variety of reasons. It is more raw and less polished than The Nice Guys, but it is also bursting with references and ideas. It really feels like, in his mind at least, this is the story that he was waiting his whole life to tell.
And, appropriately, this one feels the most personal. Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) seems like a stand-in for the director more than any of his other characters. It helps that Downey is the best possible vehicle for Black’s rapid-fire dialogue.
Lockhart is a low-rate career criminal who quite literally stumbles his way into acting as a way to get out of trouble and away from the east coast. He is hooked up with Perry (the massively under-appreciated Val Kilmer), a private investigator who takes Harry on a kind of ride-along in order to provide some real-life experience for a potential role. Along the way, Harry meets aspiring actress and detective novel aficionado Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan) at a bar after an industry party, and things spiral out of control from there. Dead bodies pile up and Harry consistently finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For both these movies, Reddit theorists who find all their enjoyment in guessing plot twists and overanalyzing the smallest clues should leave their Sherlock cap and magnifying glass in the drawer. We’re not here for the plot. We’re here for a good time. Like all the best detective novels, the enjoyment derived from these movies is more about the vibe — about living in this world and hanging out with these characters — than it is about figuring out how what room colonel Mustard was in when he killed the maid (or the adult film actress) with the candlestick.
Are these like anything I’ve seen before?
Have you read any Raymond Chandler? Shane Black clearly has. From the femme fatale to down-on-their-luck detectives and convoluted conspiracy-filled plots, Black shows all the tropes of the best American noir. And if the influences aren’t obvious enough, Black has split out Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang into 5 parts, each named after a Chandler story.
So yes, if you’re a fan of noir — whether you’ve read Chandler’s The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye or watched
noir films such as Chinatown, The Maltese Falcon, or Sunset Boulevard — you’ll see a lot of the DNA of those works in these movies. Similarly to the Coen Brothers with The Big Lebowski though, Black tries to do something different with the genre. In Black’s case, it’s livening up a traditionally self–serious type of film with plenty of jokes, some meta commentary, and a splash of ridiculousness.
The result is a more sophisticated, more adult version of the buddy cop action-comedies that were so popular in the 90’s and 2000’s, but have since gone out of fashion. Take the Rush Hour series, 48 Hours, or Black’s own Lethal Weapon movies, refine the dialogue, tone down and sharpen the broad humor into something a little darker and subtler, and throw in a little bit of moral and narrative complexity, and you have something approximating the sweet spot that Black finds with these two movies.
Where can we watch them?
The Nice Guys is available to stream with an HBO/HBO Max subscription. Unfortunately, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is not streaming on any service for free at the moment. You can either rent it on Amazon or another marketplace or, if you’re cheap like me, add it to your watchlist and wait until it pops up on a streaming service (Reelgood.com will give you an update if it comes on any service you subscribe to).
How Do They Qualify as Underseen?
The Nice Guys is certainly the film with the larger cultural footprint, but this is still a movie that only made $36 million at the domestic box office. With names like Gosling and Crowe, that is a shockingly low number. For Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang? Only $4 million domestic and $15 million worldwide.
Both movies — The Nice Guys especially — have gathered a cult following through runs on cable and plenty of positive word of mouth, but these aren’t impenetrable arthouse movies. We aren’t talking about Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! here. These are legitimately funny and wildly fun movies with action and big stars. This shouldn’t be that hard to sell! And yet, here we are.
Any Other Reasons to Watch?
As I already mentioned, Downey and Shane Black make an ideal writer-actor pairing. In fact, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is probably the movie that started Downey’s career renaissance. After appearing as a child in movies his father directed, Downey was both prolific and successful in the late 80’s and early 90’s, culminating in an Academy Award nomination for the titular role in Chaplin. From the mid-90’s to early 2000’s, he was repeatedly in the news with arrests for speeding, trespassing, and possession of just about every drug you can think of. After a long stint in rehab and plenty of negative press, studios couldn’t even insure a movie with Downey as the star, and he found it nearly impossible to get a role.
He appeared in a few smaller movies before starring in this one, but Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is the role that caught Jon Favreau’s eye when he was casting for Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie. From there, Downey’s motor mouth charm and acting chops took over, and the guy who was uninsurable just years before became the most important face of the biggest franchise in recent movie history.
Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. would later go on to work together on the (unfairly maligned, don’t @ me) third Iron Man film, as well as a small uncredited cameo for Downey as a dead body in The Nice Guys.
Shane Black is probably too clever for his own good and spends as much time winking at the audience as he does telling the story. He is someone who very clearly likes to hear himself write. That is to say, his dialogue is not in service to the purpose of the movie. It is the purpose of the movie. For some, this be an irritating flaw that is hard to get past in Black’s movies, but for others like me, his stylistic choices and one-liners will keep you coming back again and again.
Black’s lack of self-restraint is apparent elsewhere, too. Short of Tarantino, it’s hard to find a director who packs his films with more cinematic, literary, and pop culture references. Everything’s an in-joke and if you don’t get it (or just don’t enjoy it), it’s not really his problem. Hell, even the title of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is an inception-level meta commentary on cinema and the movie itself — “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a phrase coined by legendary critic Pauline Kael (and the title of one of her books) to summarize what makes us love the movies (and also points out the lack of depth apparent elsewhere). If all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, though, Shane Black makes sure to include plenty of both.
Can we go watch the movies now?
Yeah, go ahead and watch both! Thanks for reading again this week, and let me know what you think of the movies in the comments or on twitter (@slapnslide).
Before you get to the additional recommendations below, I wanted to let you know that if you want to stay up to date on everything we’re doing here on SideLine Warning, you can follow this blog through email (link on the right side of this article if you’re reading on a computer or below if you are on your phone), on Twitter, or on Facebook. We plan on having a big month with more Streaming Secrets, as well as the return of my weekly NCAA football gambling picks and a deep dive into the Braves — where the franchise is currently, how it got there, and what the future might look like.
Here are all of the movies I mentioned in the article (plus a few bonus recs) and where you can find them streaming:
Classic Film Noir (black and white, pre-1960)
The Big Sleep – Rent or Buy only
The Maltese Falcon – HBO Max
Sunset Boulevard – Prime Video, Crackle, CBS All Access
Neo-Noir (color, more modern)
Chinatown – Starz
The Big Lebowski – FuboTV
Brick – Rent or Buy only
Lethal Weapon – TBS or TNT apps (both 1 and 2 are available)
Rush Hour – TBS or TNT apps (both 1 and 2 are available)
The Last Boy Scout – Hulu
Last Action Hero – Starz
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler
The Last Good Kiss – James Crumley