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With: Barry Pepper, Andrew Davoli, Seth Green, Vin Diesel, John Malkovich, Arthur J. Nascarella, Tom Noonan, Nicholas Pasco, Shawn Doyle, Kevin Gage, Dennis Hopper, Andrew Francis, John Liddle, Kris Lemche, Dov Tiefenbach, Catherine Fitch, Josh Mostel
Written by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Directed by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some drug use
Running Time: 91
Date: 09/08/2001

Knockaround Guys (2001)

1 Star (out of 4)

Unfriendly 'Guys'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the most disheartening experiences one can have at the movies is to see a comedy that's not funny. Even worse is to see a movie that looks like it's supposed to be a comedy but isn't. That's the case with Knockaround Guys, a movie that sat on the shelf for almost two years. New Line Cinema has decided to dust it off now that actor Vin Diesel has earned a little box office clout. Don't be fooled.

Filmgoers have by now probably seen trailers for this dud: Seth Green -- always so good in comedies -- loses a satchel full of money and a band of incompetent gangsters tries to get it back before John Malkvich and Dennis Hopper descend upon them with scene-stealing furor. With this setup, you would expect Knockaround Guys to be a laugh a minute. But no. It takes itself very seriously, exploring such deep issues as "our dads are big gangsters, why aren't we? Our life sucks."

It begins with a flashback. Teddy Deserve (Malkovich) leads young Matty Demaret, who's about 12, down to a basement to do his first hit on a cheating weasel. But Matty can't pull the trigger, and Teddy holds that against him for the next decade, believing that Matty wasn't cut out for "the life." But in the present day, Matty (Barry Pepper, who stunk up the screen in Battlefield Earth), can't get a straight job any more than he can join the mob. So he's forced to fetch sandwiches for his dad, big-time Benny "Chains" Demaret (Hopper).

Apparently, Matty's three best pals have the same troubles: Taylor Reese (Vin Diesel) maintains electronic gambling machines in two-bit liquor stores, Johnny Marbles (Seth Green) ekes out a living with his pilot's license while trying to kick a cocaine habit, and Chris Scarpa (Andrew Davoli) spends his time picking up chicks. They all want something better. When an opportunity comes up to deliver a bag of money, Matty begs his dad to let him and his crew do the job. But for some reason, Marbles gets selected to do the job alone while the others sit around and do nothing. Of course, Marbles panics and loses the money when a gangly, creepy sheriff (Tom Noonan) shows up on the scene.

The brain-dead and ineffectual would-be gangsters attempt to get the money back but keep bungling the job. Finally the big guys come in and everything ends in the expected shootout. Written and directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who wrote the screenplay for John Dahl's Rounders, Knockaround Guys turned me off with its awkward two-bit dialogue right from scene one.

Malkovich attempts a twisted accent to cover up the flavorless lines, but the directors don't know how to control him and it goes over the top quickly. Not to mention that Matty and his crew are just too stupid to handle this simple job. I couldn't suppress my anger as the final shootout came close and the heroes just sat around chatting (more of that boring, boring dialogue) and waiting for the appointed time. Then they're surprised when the bad guys have set a trap.

Again, if Knockaround Guys were a comedy about stupid gangsters, it would have been ... well, I guess it would have been Corky Romano. But it somehow seems even more like a botched job without the laughs. The only funny thing in the movie is when 6-foot-6-inch Noonan stands in the frame right next to 5-foot-4-inch Green. The filmmakers even try their hand at pathos by killing off some of their characters and expecting us to feel something for them. Maybe we would have if the doomed characters weren't virtually stamped with "kill me" on their foreheads.

If you're a Vin Deisel fan and you're still considering seeing this movie, keep in mind that Deisel is buried in among the rest of the unserviceable cast and doesn't have much to do, aside from beating up one local thug. Koppelman and Levien apparently did not possess the instinct to realize that Deisel was far more interesting than any of their lead characters.

As for Malkovich, he can be seen this November in a much better movie (so far the year's best movie, as a matter of fact), Manoel de Oliveira's I'm Going Home -- which, coincidentally, was my first response to Knockaround Guys.

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