|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 25 February 2003|
"Knockaround Guys" is a bit like "Baby Goodfellas" and not entirely in a good way. The film follows Matty Demaret (Barry Pepper), the son of New Jersey mob under-boss Benny "Chains" Demaret (Dennis Hopper). Matty gives up on making a life for himself in the straight legitimate business world, and tries to win his father's approval and respect by proving he and his crew can handle a simple milk run.
Predictably, everything goes wrong, starting with barely-sober best pal Marbles (Seth Green) getting high and losing $50 million in mob money in a small Montana town. It's all downhill from there as Matty, Jewish enforcer Taylor (Vin Diesel) and smooth ladies man Scarpa (Andrew Davoli) try and get the money away from two corrupt cops (Tom Noonan and Shawn Doyle). But the real problems start when Matty's uncle Teddy (John Malkovich) arrives, and all the laughs are left behind as some seriously gunplay, murder and betrayal take place.
Matty and Taylor are the two most complex characters of the piece. Matty is essentially a good guy, with a great handle on all aspects of the business other than actually killing people, surrendering his dream of becoming a sports agent when his father's name and reputation ensure he'll never be seen as anything other than a goombah. Taylor, on the other hand, set out to become exactly what he is because no other road was left open to him. Their friendship and loyalty to one another are at the heart of this film, and is easily the best part of the movie. Noonan and Doyle, as the sad-sack sheriff and his vintage car-loving deputy, turn in good performances as well given their limited screen time. Unfortunately, Davoli is completely forgettable as Scarpa, who adds very little to the mix other than as cannon fodder. Green's mugging and Malkovich's relentless scenery-chewing end up detracting what has potential to be a solid tale. Add to that Kris Lemche and Dov Tiefenbach as two hapless stoners who discover the money and blow it on expensive extreme sports gear, and the movie begins to fall apart before it even gets rolling.
Writers/directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien (who previously hit a home run with critics and audiences for "Rounders") struggle with the tone of the film throughout. At times too broadly funny to be as grim as they are obviously aiming for, the result is a mish-mash of love letter to Koppelman and Levien's childhood haunts, critical look at the current generation of mobsters, and comedy played for laughs. It's unfortunately easy to see why "Knockaround Guys" sat on a shelf at New Line for several years, until it was released in the wake of Diesel's newfound action star street cred thanks to "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX."
Despite the lackluster material, the visual persentation is top notch. The print is in excellent shape, with no defects to be seen, and flesh tones and colors are perfect from beginning to end. While the movie is a bit dark, that owes more to the cinematography than the disc itself, and black levels are excellent throughout.
The audio mix is fairly simple, offering little in the way of surround experience until the last third of the film, at which point it becomes a shoot-em-up action film. The rears are used mainly to support the score, and for effects, with dialogue crisp and clear, mainly in the center. “Knockaround Guys” is not exactly a dynamic home theatre experience, but then, the film is mostly dialogue driven, and has a very spare feel to it, particularly in the "fish out of water" middle section as the bumbling mob guys try to hold their own in town. Overall, the sound is perfectly adequate. It won't "wow" you at any point, but neither does it detract.
Extras include cut scenes with commentary, as the directors explain exactly why showing Marbles on the golf course ultimately didn't further the story, and a feature-length commentary which, while entertaining at times, is given more to Koppelman and Levien reminiscing about the guys they knew upon whom the characters were based than the actual filmmaking process. However, it does contain some interesting insights, and will be a particular treat for fans of Diesel's character, who is discussed at length throughout. Rounding out the special features is the ubiquitous and expected theatrical trailer. The menus are very sharp and snazzy, as well as easy to navigate, and set the mood nicely, with a nice retro gangster movie feel.
"Knockaround Guys" may hold onto its audience until the credits roll, but it is fairly forgettable once the last craft service credit flashes up on the screen.