How many friends can you trust with your life?
In 1992, Quentin Tarantino released the now-classic Reservoir Dogs, which in turn opened a floodgate of hip gangster/mob movies, most of which try too hard to follow the Tarantino formula and end up being highly unremarkable. There have been some notable exceptions in the past ten years, such as Bryan Singer's phenomenal The Usual Suspects and Guy Ritchie's Snatch. I love mob movies, and I watch each one that I can see hoping that I'll find yet another classic, but Knockaround Guys isn't one of those times. With that in mind, we'll see that Knockaround Guys doesn't deserve to be ignored, either.
Facts of the Case
Matty Demaret (Barry Pepper, Battlefield Earth, Saving Private Ryan) is the son of the legendary mobster Benny Chains (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider, True Romance). When Matty is a teenager, Benny finds himself behind bars and Matty is granted the opportunity to put a bullet into the snitch by his uncle, Teddy Deserve (John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire). When Matty backs down, he's forced to live with the stigma of having no stomach for the business.
As an adult, Matty is trying to be a legitimate sports agent, but nobody will give him an opportunity because of his family name. Matty then decides that the only way to gain respect is to begin working for his father, who's incredibly reluctant to bring him into the family business. When Matty's uncle lends a helping hand, Matty gets a job of bringing a package from Montana back to New York, which seems like it would be pretty easy. Step 1: Have his friend and pilot and former coke addict fly out to pick up the package. Step 2: Have Johnny Marbles (Seth Green, Idle Hands, Rat Race) fly the package back. Step 3: Profit.
Simple, right? Don't be too sure, cupcake, because Johnny Marbles is a consummate screw-up, and he manages to screw up. The package is lost in a place in the vicinity East Eyesocket, Montana, which prompts Matty and two of his other friends, a modern Casanova named Chris Scarpa (Andrew Davoli, TV's The Sopranos) and a meatheaded tough guy named Taylor Reese (Vin Diesel, Pitch Black, Saving Private Ryan—sorry, I refuse to acknowledge The Fast and the Furious as a film). How do you find a satchel containing half a million dollars in ill-gotten gains in a small down? Find the toughest guy in town and wail the living tar out of him, and then make him find the money. Unfortunately, the money ends up in the hands of the local constabulary, and Sheriff Decker (Tom Noonan, Heat, Manhunter) decides that he's due for a pay raise. More trouble comes in the form of Uncle Teddy, who decides to bring some heat to clean up the mess.
In many ways the story of Knockaround Guys is something you've probably already seen before. Right from the beginning you know the cops are going to be crooked, the protagonists are going to be caught in a moral dilemma, there's going to be some double crosses, and there's going to be a shoot out (most likely all or in part filmed in slow motion) at the end. This greatly applies to Knockaround Guys, though the writing and directing team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien have given some additional material for the audience to chew over. The story takes some very green mobster hopefuls and puts them in the rather unfortunate position of facing the possibility of eating a bullet after their first job. There also aren't very many mob movies set in a small town atmosphere, with the city boys trying to cope with the locals. While there are a couple of unique elements, there's still that element of familiarity looming over the entire story, and that ultimately keeps Knockaround Guys from being an instant classic. Don't get me wrong: the story is quite enjoyable, but it lacks some of the originality of movies like Reservoir Dogs or Snatch.
What really helps Knockaround Guys is the phenomenal casting decisions. Barry Pepper is likeable in just about every role he's taken, even with his work in the unwatchable Battlefield Earth. Pepper seems to feel right at home in the part of a reluctant wise guy, and his charisma and demeanor help power the film. Next is a decent performance by Vin Diesel, though his newer fans who've only seen him in The Fast and the Furious and xXx may be disappointed here. Knockaround Guys has been sitting on a shelf somewhere for about three years (putting this closer in time to Diesel's roles in Boiler Room and Pitch Black) and was probably only released to capitalize on Diesel's star power, but it doesn't matter. Sure he's playing a tough guy in this film, but can you really see him as anything else? It's type-casting, but it works, and Diesel manages to most of the best lines in the film, including an awesome speech right before delivering the ass kicking to end all ass kickings to local tough, Brucker (infamous That Guy, Kevin Gage, who played Waingro in Heat). Andrew Davoli steps up from being a guy in the background on The Sopranos to a solid movie role, and he gets several moments to shine. One of the themes of Knockaround Guys is the loyalty friends have to each other, and Davoli's character goes through the most difficult of times in questioning his loyalty. Seth Green is somebody who you wouldn't really expect to show up in a mob film, but since he's the guy who throws the monkey wrench into the works, he really seems to fit the part and shines within it. It's great to see Tom Noonan in an antagonistic part again, John Malkovich shines as a wise guy even though he can't seem to get the accent right (once he starts chewing scenery you'll never notice—trust me on this), and Dennis Hopper is capable (though not outstanding) in a role as a mob boss. The triumph of these actors is to take a slightly above mediocre script and make it shine, and it's a testament to their acting ability. If you're a fan of any of these folks, then Knockaround Guys deserves a look.
The video transfer is pretty standard and unspectacular. There are few imperfections and all of the colors seem to be hit properly. There are no problems that I noticed with artifacting, but there is a bit of edge enhancement, though not enough to distract from the film. Warner has also provided a full screen transfer for those of you who still believe the black bars on your TV were placed there by stealthy alien ninjas. The sound is a capable DTS track that does well to add to the viewing experience, though this one won't be what you use to show off your home theater system. As far as extras go, there's an excellent commentary track by Koppelman and Levien. You really have to love a track where they make fun of an actor's poker playing skills and praise Kevin Gage. There are a few deleted scenes, and as usual with deleted scenes you can see why each one of them was removed from the final product. Each of these scenes comes with an optional commentary that tells you what you already know. Everything is rounded out with the obligatory theatrical trailer, which makes Knockaround Guys look too much like a Snatch knock off.
If you're already a fan of this film, then the Knockaround Guys DVD is worthy of purchase. If you're on the fence (and you probably should be after this review), then my advice is that Knockaround Guys is worthy of a rental; there are far worse ways to spend ninety minutes.
Now that I've received payment to look the other way, Knockaround Guys is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Filmmaker Commentary
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