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Nice Guy Johnny
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by Jay Seaver

"'Nice' is about right."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: As much as I hate the bilious broadcasts that pass for sports talk radio here in the Northeast, I kind of doubt that Oakland, California, is laid back enough that a host who goes by "Nice Guy Johnny" would fly, even in the overnight slot - and that's before hearing the bland commentary he's dispensing as the movie opens. Now, "Nice Guy Johnny" the movie isn't going to rise and fall based on the authenticity of the similarly-named radio show, but what we see and hear is telling nonetheless - mainly, that friendly but shallow responses to artificial dilemmas are on tap.

The host of the "Nice Guy Johnny" show is Johnny Rizzo (Matt Bush), a transplanted New Yorker about to turn twenty-five, at which time he has promised fiancée Claire (Anna Wood) that, if he wasn't making $50,000/year, he would take a sensible job - and her father has just lined one up for him, as a supervisor at a company that makes cardboard boxes back East. He's less than enthusiastic. When he arrives back home and meets his Uncle Terry (writer/director Ed Burns), the bartender is openly dismissive, wondering why he's still with Claire anyway, and invites Johnny to join him on a weekend trip to the Hamptons. There, Terry and one of his girlfriends immediately try to set him up with her tennis instructor, Brooke (Kerry Bishé), who also thinks it is a dreadful idea. And, since she's a cute, athletic, outspoken sports fan, is probably perfect for him. But he's engaged, and made a promise, and is a man of his word...

That Brooke is more or less Johnny's ideal match while it's hard to see how he and Claire have tolerated each other for three years is simplistic, sure, but it's not necessarily a terrible thing to set up such a clear differentiation. It's disappointing, though, that Burns isn't willing to simply let them represent the opposing values of risk and security. No, Claire has to be a domineering, distrustful shrew. Similarly, the description of Johnny being nice to a fault is accurate, and it makes him a bit dull, while Uncle Terry is just as absurdly dishonest.

Thin characters can work if you give them enough to do, but Burns doesn't make the farce elements snappy enough for that. Terry's juggling multiple girlfriends, staying in one's beach-house unannounced, not telling Johnny, whose phone accidentally winds up with Brooke who answers it when Claire calls... There are funny moments to all of them, but Burns has trouble getting from one to the next; rather than building humorous situations to greater heights, he tends to fumble the attempt to get more than a couple laughs from a given scene, instead maneuvering back to talking about chasing dreams versus settling down very quickly.

One thing he does choose well are his young leads. Matt Bush my not be that convincing as a sports radio host, but otherwise, Johnny can grow on the audience. He's comfortable in his uptightness, in a way, bristling when someone puts him in a situation he'd rather not be in but stopping well short of panic or priggishness. Bishé's Brooke, on the other hand, gets to push buttons and work her charm on the audience, and she makes it pretty easy for us to forgive her for not exactly backing off a guy who's taken. Anna Wood, unfortunately, can't make us see Claire as much more than pretty demanding. Burns is generally a hoot as Terry, though - he gets to give himself all the good one-liners and just enjoy being kind of a knucklehead.

The weak script and good cast adds up to an average movie, which is kind of surprising, considering how regularly Burns has been making these little New York romantic comedies over the past fifteen years. I imagine he's got a following that will enjoy this one, and it's rentable enough otherwise.

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originally posted: 09/23/10 23:58:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2010 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2010 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 26-Oct-2010


  DVD: 26-Oct-2010

Directed by
  Edward Burns

Written by
  Edward Burns

  Matt Bush
  Kerry Bishé
  Anna Wood
  Edward Burns

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