Knockaround Guys (2002)
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Review Date: September 19, 2002
Director: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Writer: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Producers: Lawrence Bender
Barry Pepper as Matty Demaret
Vin Diesel as Taylor Reese
John Malkovich as Teddy Deserve
A young hood who can't seem to get hired for any "regular" jobs because of his mafia father's infamous last name decides to give up on the "straight" life and take another shot at the mob life. But when one of his buddies loses half a million dollars of his dad's stash, it's up to him and three friends to fly down to a hick town and get it back. Knocking around ensues...
This picture was originally set for release in January 2001. That's right...almost two years ago! Holding off on a movie is generally not a very good sign, but in the case of this flick, the outcome turned out to be much better than what I was fearing. In fact, compared to the absolutely incoherent spectacle that was BALLISTIC: ECKS VS SEVER, which I saw the night before, this baby is an Oscar hopeful. Despite never truly bowling you over at any point, it is a decent "small" mob flick featuring a lot of big names and does entertain overall. One thing that did take me for a loop though was that unlike some of its early trailers seemed to portray, the film is essentially a dramatic piece and not a comedy whatsoever. In fact, if you're expecting a "laugh a minute", go elsewhere. It's in the same vein as a DONNIE BRASCO with specific attention paid to the sons of mobsters and their particular "struggle" for societal acceptance. An interesting premise to be sure, aided by the fact that most of the actors also came to play. Barry Pepper is particularly good as the lead goombah, lending a genuine sense of anguish and frustration to his character's forked life. Vin Diesel is also his usual "Diesel" self and despite having more of a secondary role here, continues to impress with his monstrous screen presence, his massive pecs and biceps, and in this film...the stubble on top of his head (his intro scene is an all-out kickass show-love that star of David tattoo on the arm as well...nice touch!). I also appreciated how his character ultimately came to terms with what/who he was. Nice.

Unfortunately, the other two friends in the pack aren't as developed, with Andrew Davoli playing the good-looking but relatively empty charmer, while Seth Green just plain looked out of place. I usually like the dude in pretty much anything, but both he and Pepper's phony-looking jet-black hair stood out like my peepee every morning. The other two big names in the film are Dennis Hopper, who does okay but also wasn't as developed as I would have liked (he's Pepper's father for God's sakes...let's see a little more back-story between the two) and John Malkovich, who plays yet another goofy over-the-top accented character named Teddy (not by coincidence either, since the dudes who wrote his Russian character of Teddy in ROUNDERS are the same guys who wrote and directed this film). Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention Tom Noonan, who is his usual creepy self as the local prick sheriff. As for the story itself, it starts off a little slow but does eventually gain momentum once the dudes get to the hick town and I was also pleasantly surprised to see the script take a "darker" turn by its conclusion. The directing was also competent but somewhat uneventful, and could certainly have been livened up with a little more style and a lot more sauce in its soundtrack. But as it stands, I would still recommend this movie since it does feature a pretty solid cast and characters (especially Pepper), a pumped-up Vin Diesel "going tanktop" on our ass, driving bullets through bad guys a la Chow Yun-Fat and a pretty neat story for the most part (I was never bored). Just don't go expecting anything to truly knock you upside the head and you should be okay.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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