Dateworthy – “The Nice Guys” vs “Neighbors 2”

Sometimes there’s a fine line between good taste and bad taste. A filmmaker can choose to tackle an “adult,” R-rated subject with class – avoiding graphic sex or violence and leaving extreme behavior to be implied offscreen – or simply wallow in the worst behavior human beings have to offer.
This weekend, the nation’s movie theaters will be offering stark examples of both ends of the spectrum, as the detective comedy “The Nice Guys” and the raunchy, anything-goes sequel “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” hit the big screen. “Nice Guys” features two hard-luck guys who team up to solve a string of murders committed against performers tied to a porn movie in mid-1970s Los Angeles, while “Neighbors 2” features a suburban couple and a formerly antagonistic frat house president who team up to battle and clear out a houseful of unbelievably wild sorority girls living next door.

While both may sound utterly offensive, “The Nice Guys” relies on its classy star duo of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as well as its ace writer-director Shane Black (creator of the “Lethal Weapon” movies) to tell its story in a way that remains entertaining, is fairly restrained in its tone and has some surprising moments of grace. It’s a blast for adults and is dateworthy if you can handle “Lethal Weapon 2”. “Neighbors 2” has none of those redeeming qualities, and is definitely not dateworthy.

“The Nice Guys” follows private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and muscleman-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who are initially at odds but team up to find a missing young woman named Amelia and find out what her connection is to the death of a porn actress. Amelia had asked Healy to protect her from men who were following her, and March is one of the guys she wants kept away from her.

Healy meets March when he shows up at his house to sucker punch him and break his arm to get him to stop following Ameilia. But as he realizes March is a widower raising his young teenage daughter on his own, he takes sympathy on him and the two begrudgingly team up to find her, after she disappears following news reports on the mysterious car-crash death of a porn actress.

With March’s preteen daughter in tow for much of their escapades, “The Nice Guys” manages to be a movie that deals with definitely adult subject matter and has adult-level immorality scattered throughout – yet doesn’t cross the line into being tawdry or worse.

Co-writer/director Shane Black is an outstanding writer who keeps things humorous throughout and doesn’t dwell on the depictions of sex, instead showing just enough of a glimpse to get the point across and only in a couple moments, while the action is played for laughs and not gruesome either. And for a movie of this genre, the language is relatively minimal as well (many cop/action movies these days use well over 150 and even 200 profanities and obscenities, while this has about half that total.)

There are also a couple of thoughtful moments, as March’s daughter asks Healy to let her find an ambulance for a villain who was hit by a car, even after the villain had just endangered her own life moments before. This kind of extra moment of thoughtfulness happens at other points in the movie as well, and the daughter’s presence in the film serves as a check on the bad impulses of Healy, who is clearly touched by her innocence and feels guilty for his failing when he’s around her.

Basically, if you can handle a “Lethal Weapon”-type movie, then you’ll enjoy “The Nice Guys” even more. If you don’t, then this might be one to avoid, although it has a funnier, nicer, and less intense tone throughout than that action classic.

Meanwhile, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is an utterly hopeless example of the worst instincts of American comedies today. The unnecessary sequel to the 2014 hit “Neighbors,” which was already pushing the boundaries of good taste, this movie crosses that line from its opening minute and goes on to include numerous sight gags and sequences that obliterate any sense of decency.

Mac Radner (Seth Rogan) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a suburban young married couple with a young daughter who, in the prior movie, were forced to do battle against a ruthless and paganistic fraternity headed by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) in order to save their home and their sanity from their reckless next-door fraternity neighbors. This time, the couple are about to sell their home to a new couple and have to survive 30 days of escrow in order to accomplish that.

The stakes are made even higher by the fact that they already have purchased a new home and if the sale falls through, they will owe money on both homes and be financially ruined. Just as they think it’s smooth sailing, a local college girl named Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets fed up with the strict rules at her university, which prevent sororities from throwing their own parties.

Together with other rebellious outsider girls, she decides to launch her own off-campus sorority free from the campus rules, and the girls decide to rent the house next to Mac and Kelly. When Shelby and her crew meet Teddy, who wants revenge against the Radners for losing his fraternity and his power, Teddy offers to help them raise as much havoc as possible and ruin the Radners’ lives again.

But when the girls decide that even Teddy is forcing too many rules upon them, they toss him out of the house. Utterly helpless, Teddy is invited to move in with the Radners , and the former enemies team up to root the girls out in time to sell their house.

What ensues is a battle royale that hinges on mass quantities of marijuana, underage alcohol consumption, implied promiscuity, and all manner of dirty tricks and backstabbing. Utterly disgusting sexual matters are discussed and shown, with some of the most vile moments inviting the toddler daughter of the Radners being subjected to horrible language and behavior. A few brief scenes – including the chase and battle over the bag of marijuana – are well-staged enough to draw some laughs inadvertently, but overall this is a moral mess.

From the opening minute almost all the way through the end, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” traffics in the worst of human behavior in the name of comedy that is simply too raunchy to be enjoyable. Worse, the behavior it depicts is intended to make it seem admirable that young women would act just as much or more degrading than similar men.

In the end, the warring parties do make some peace and forgive each other, but it’s a case of too little, too late to be redemptive in any form or fashion. This is a must to avoid for anyone with a sense of discretion.