Made

The same offbeat sensibility that informed Swingers, Miramax's 1996 hit, is also in evidence in Made, the new crime-comedy directed, written, and starring Jon Favreau, except that unlike the former picture, which dealt with real issues, the new one is a basically plotless, character-driven film. Reuniting for the first time since Swingers, Favreau and Vince Vaughn play two hapless friends, reluctantly and hilariously plunged into the world of organized crime. As a writing and acting vehicle, Made showcases again the duo's unique talents, but it's less effective or funny as a spoof of Scorsese's crime-gangster pictures, specifically Mean Streets and GoodFellas, with a touch of The Sopranos thrown in. Artisan mid-summer release should do decent business within the indie/arthouse circuit, but won't travel well to the more mainstream locations.

I admire Favreau's determination not to do a sequel, or a similar movie, to Swingers, due to the changing mores as well his and partner Vaughn's older age. At the same time, what was special about Swingers, a sharp comedy about a struggling New York actor desperate to find a girlfriend in L.A., was its low budget ($250,000), and the fact that it was the first film to address “the politics of answering machine,” and how they have become an integral part of dating rituals. Additionally, the mores and lingo used in Swingers was fresh and infectious, imitated to death by the twentysomething crowd.

The budget for the new comedy is obviously bigger, which may be a minor problem compared to the fact that Favreau's distinctive brand of humor has lost its novelty. This wouldn't have been a major shortcoming, if the script were more substantial, and not dependent so much on the endless bickering of two leads.

An aspiring amateur boxer, Bobby (Favreau) spends his days doing a construction job, and his nights as a bodyguard for his stripper girlfriend and single mom, Jessica (a terrific Janssen), whose “job” he jealously resents. Bobby refuses to give up his dream of victory in the ring, despite urging of his deadbeat chum, Ricky (Vaughn), who believes they should pursue higher positions in the organization of old-time mob boss, Max (Falk).

Under pressure, Bobby and Ricky accept Max's offer to perform a high-stakes delivery, proving that they are not only amateur but clueless as to how the operation works. This becomes clear in practically every encounter they have, beginning with their harassment of a flight attendant in their first-class trip to New York, and culminating in some disastrous meetings with Ruiz (played by controversial rapper Sean Combs), a club-hopping Downtown Manhattan gangster.

Endowed with sharply divergent personalities, the duo take a different approach to their task–and life in general. Bobby wants to get the job done and get home alive, whereas Ricky, believing he's got it “made,” ignores mobster protocol, and sets out to enjoy New York's good life of stretch limos, beautiful women, and chic nightclubs.

The story is based on a serviceable premise, namely, how in a matter of hours, Ricky's delusions of grandeur are shattered, putting him and his buddy in life-threatening jeopardy. Favreau writes honed dialogue, and the situations into which the duo is thrown are intermittently smart and funny. But it's not enough for a feature-length movie (barely 93 minute-long), that also falls victim to a repetitive rhythm. Almost every scene follows the same pattern: Macho bravado talk leads to a disastrous act by Ricky, ending in yet another vocal argument and physical fight between the couple.

That said, in his feature directorial debut, Favreau shows promise as a helmer highly sensitive to his ensemble. Made is peppered with terrific turns, from the leads to Combs and Janssen, to Falk, whose role recalls his work for John Cassavetes, to Vincent Pastore, as the limo driver. Photography by lenser Chris Doyle, who recently shot the exquisite Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, contributes visual pleasure way beyond the light narrative in which it is contained.

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