A New Generation of Mobsters
"Knockaround guys" are the underbosses of the mafia, the guys who aren't quite at the top but have definite connections with the mob hierarchy. Matty Demaret (Barry Pepper), the son of mobster Benny Chains (Dennis Hopper), has spent his life trying to live up to his father's expectations and the family name. Merely mentioning that name has cost Matty job after job.
Exhausting all methods to make it on his own, Matty turns to his father for the opportunity to prove himself worthy once and for all. Reluctantly, Matty is given a chance, assigned to make sure the delivery of a bag from Spokane to New York City runs smoothly. But there's nothing smooth about Matty's bag man, Johnny Marbles (Seth Green), losing the package, containing about 500 grand in mob money, somewhere in tiny Wibeaux, Montana. Along with Scarpa (Andrew Davoli) and Taylor (Vin Diesel), two other friends also tied to the mob, Matty heads to Wibeaux with the intention of strong-arming the place until the money pops up. But these big-city tactics are met with opposition in the form of small-town corruption when the package finds itself in the hands of the town sheriff (Tom Noonan), your old-fashioned dirty cop who's not planning to give up the cash without a fight.
Last October, Knockaround Guys disappeared from multiplexes faster than it took New Line to release the picture (to give you an idea of how old the movie is, I remember seeing a trailer before Blow). I'm not sure what led to the film's failure, whether it was poor marketing or the fact that XXX gave enough people their Vin Diesel fix for the rest of the year. In any case, seeing the flick fade so fast into obscurity is a shame, because while Knockaround Guys is far from being a standout picture in the genre of mob movies, it's not half-bad. From the start, Knockaround Guys knows where it's going and what it wants to do. It's a simple, cut-and-dried "young mafia vs. old mafia" movie, a comparison between the old days when things that needed to be done were done and today, when upstarts threaten to destroy everything set forth by their predecessors. When Marbles loses the money, it signals to Matty and everyone else that the time has come to prove their worth, to show their fathers what they've learned and to save everyone from meeting their fate at the business end of a pistol.
Trying to avoid too many comparisons with GoodFellas, writer/directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien don't delve very deep into this theme. They prefer to keep the story at a simple, but intelligent, level. The dialogue is comprised primarily of different, usually profane, variations of "Where's the money?", but Koppelman and Levien make sure to give these mob upstarts some back stories and personalities before sending them out on their mission. Pepper heads the cast with confidence and a cool head on his shoulders, his role as a guy who wants nothing to do with the mafia but has to turn to it when, in fact, that's why he hasn't been able to secure a job anywhere else. Green turns in an amusing job as goofball Marbles, Davoli is good as the ladies man of the group, and Diesel delivers a nice, low-key performance as a tough guy who knows his place in the mob world. Hopper and John Malkovich (as Matty's uncle, Teddy Deserve) class up the film with their priceless performances as high-ranking mafia figures (gotta love Malkovich's line, "You...are unlikable."), and character actor Noonan does good work as the obligatory corrupt cop.
Knockaround Guys works with fairly thin material. It takes only 90 minutes for the characters to lose the money, search around town for it, and draw out the guns for the final showdown. This doesn't allow much in terms of character development other than "the dudes who want the money" and "the dude who has the money." Still, I found Knockaround Guys to be a well-made and often fun tough-guy flick. I think it's destined for a long life of repeated airings on TNN.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by New Line and rated "R" for violence, language, and drug use.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.