Semi-Tough

Flub and bluster in Made

In Made, a new gangster comedy directed by the actor and screenwriter Jon Favreau, Favreau and Vince Vaughn play two bickering Los Angeles construction workers and amateur boxers trying to bluff their way through a perfectly routine drop job in New York, assigned to them by the Los Angeles mobster on whose good will each, for different reasons, depends. The movie's premise inverts the geography of Swingers, which Favreau wrote and co-starred in with Vaughn, in which two New Yorkers trying to break into Hollywood flop around the LA lounge scene, making idiots of themselves. Here, their odd-couple friction is a continuation by other means of the shtick, which, in a neat reversal of their fate in Swingers, brought both actors enough good notices to launch their careers.

And very good shtick it is. Bobby (Favreau) and Ricky (Vaughn) quarrel pretty much the way they box: clumsily, without finesse or focus, like longtime spouses who've been ill-matched from the get-go but stick out the marriage because sparring is all they know how to do. Their rambling fights always end in a draw—the movie's running gag is that as they navigate the shark-infested waters of Manhattan gangland, the cuts and bruises that collect on their faces come not from Mafia heavies but from their own pathetic fisticuffs. Each is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with the world he has blundered into (a world dominated by Sean "Puffy" Combs, in an excellent simulation of his usual pleasant self): Favreau's Bobby has the round, sweaty countenance and pleading eyes of a man determined to do right by the world; as he sees it, he's only in this game to protect his stripper girlfriend (Famke Janssen)—who works for the mobster, Max (Peter Falk)—and her daughter, Chloe (Makenzie Vega). He's carrying Ricky, a blowhard dim bulb whom nobody wants to hire and who can't keep his motormouth shut even when his life depends on it, out of the inchoate loyalty due to a childhood pal.

Chauffeured around Manhattan in a stretch limo by the obligatory phlegmatic thug (Vincent Pastore), the two men flub (Bobby) and bluster (Ricky) their way through one mob-comedy set piece after another: the nightclub that doesn't have their names on its A-list, the luscious girls who land in their hotel room and don't put out, the gun that turns out to be a starter pistol. Made may look like a Wong Kar-Wai movie—cinematographer Chris Doyle has brought to the film the dark, rich romanticism of the movies he's shot for the Hong Kong prodigy—but the sensibility is Woody Allen, only sweeter. Favreau, whose first feature this is, is a crisp writer of dialogue who also knows when to let his actors cut loose and ad lib. Peter Falk is a gas as the cranky Max, a snake in hail-fellow-well-met clothing who thinks he has the two men over a barrel. The pleasures of Made are entirely conversational—a scene in which Bobby and Ricky launch into their nth round of bickering against a background of squealing penguins at the zoo in itself justifies soldiering through the slight and familiar plot. No one seems to want to make a gangster movie these days without subverting the genre, but Made is appealingly free of the snickering distance that cripples most such movies. Bobby's up-and-down relationship with his strung-out girlfriend and his abiding love for her little girl give the film a serious enough edge that when Favreau slips into self-indulgence at the end, you let him have his moment—and gladly. In Swingers, Favreau played a man whose life's goal is to break into movies. Made is the work of a man who, having done just that, is breaking into something more interesting: life.

Made was written and directed by Jon Favreau; produced by Vince Vaughn and Favreau; and stars Vaughn, Favreau and Famke Janssen. Now playing at Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood; and Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

 
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