Last week, even as the broadcast networks were rolling out their schedules of reboots and remakes during the upfronts, the creative team at HBO, always proud of its bold programming, seemed to roll over in exhaustion.
Jimmy Kimmel’s conclusion: Broadcast television was staying current by offering “fresh new shows like Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist – all your favorite VHS tapes — not to mention MacGyver and Prison Break.”
Since trend-spotters were left scratching their heads over both HBO and the networks, I decided to seek nostalgic refuge in an old Shane Black movie, The Nice Guys — except maybe it’s supposed to be a new movie. Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon, stays current by essentially making the same movie again and again, the latest teaming Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who are very funny together. In so doing, Black has become a folk hero to young creatives and a “brand” to producers – a solid achievement since financiers are looking for brands rather than movies these days.
Black’s themes and characters in The Nice Guys are reminiscent of his previous films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Long Kiss Goodnight, and are even set in a ’70s world of smog, porn and gasoline lines. Crowe and Gosling portray private investigators who, from scene to scene, deftly switch genres between Raymond Chandler to Abbott & Costello, even dropping Richard Nixon jokes along the way. If one of their scenes appears to have nowhere to go, it simply stops — no apologies offered.
Jaunty and good-humored, Black sold his first spec script — the original Lethal Weapon — at age 24 for about a quarter-million dollars, thus heralding a new era of opportunity for young writers – one which quickly ended. Black nonetheless bought himself a big house, acquired big dogs and pretty girlfriends and threw lots of great parties. I was a long-term neighbor and appreciated his lifestyle as well as his talent for writing slapstick anarchy. The upshot, however, is that he now finds himself writing superhero movies with neither the capes, masks or indeed the superheroes. His characters are always involved in enough noise and tumult to keep audiences distracted. And no one was ever in serious jeopardy because that would end the fun.
Will the Shane Black brand continue to find an audience? The film landscape now seems sharply bifurcated between Marvel mania, on the one side, and Netflix and Amazon, on the other. Ted Sarandos of Netflix took a moment last week to explain his focus. “Netflix offers an infinite trade radius using our algorithms to merchandise films and make them more prominent to the person who loves them,” he said.
OK, fond as I am of Black and respectful of his storytelling skills, I am not sure I want to be included in his particular algorithm. For that matter, relative to Jimmy Kimmel, I’m not persuaded that I want to watch a new TV series based on The Exorcist or Lethal Weapon rather than simply re-visiting my VHS tapes.