Knockaround Guys

2002, Movie, R, 92 mins


Action-farce title notwithstanding, this high-concept gangster picture tries unsuccessfully to duplicate RESERVOIR DOGS's (1992) hair-raising high-wire balance between dark comedy and violent crime thriller, undermining some entertaining performances and the script's small virtues in the process. Matty (Barry Pepper), Taylor (Vin Diesel) and cousins Chris (Andrew Davoli) and Johnny (Seth Green) are second-generation goodfellas who get no respect from anyone. Not from the outsiders who assume they're spoiled daddy's boys, and certainly not from their daddies, who wouldn't trust them to whack a three-legged dog with a bazooka. Chris's father, defanged by the threat of life imprisonment, wants his son to learn the legitimate restaurant business, while Matty is just a glorified errand boy for his, legendary hard-case Benny Chains (Dennis Hopper). Hulking Taylor, who'll never be a made man because he's half-Jewish, is entrusted with routine leg-breaking gigs (the big Star of David tattoo on the bigger bicep is fair warning to anyone who even thinks about calling him jew-boy) and everybody rightly figures Johnny for a genial screw-up. Matty, whose attempts to find work outside the family have been derailed by Benny's notoriety, enlists Uncle Teddy (John Malkovich) to lobby Benny for a chance, and a timely opportunity presents itself. Benny needs a bag picked up on the other side of the country, and Johnny has a small plane. Naturally, Johnny loses the bag — which turns out to contain a good half million in cash — at a refueling stop in tiny Wibaux, Mont., and the pals have to scramble to retrieve it before their fathers get really mad. How hard could it be for a bunch of Brooklyn hoods to run roughshod over a tiny cow town? The film's set-up is terrific: The smug, callow baby toughs rolling into town and a comeuppance they don't expect in the person of local Sheriff Decker (Tom Noonan) promises lean, mean thrills. But the film never finds its tone (perhaps because it has two directors) and several scenes run too long, including a honky-tonk bar face-off that buries Diesel's greatest asset — his sheer physical presence — under a ludicrously overwritten speech that highlights his limitations as an actor. And frankly, Malkovich acts the wet-behind-the-ears stars off the screen; his mannerisms are channeled into a slippery role that appears to have been written for Chrisopher Walken but fits Malkovich like a velvet glove. The film knocked around for the better part of two years before finally being released. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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