Starring: Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Seth Green, Andrew Davoli, John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper, Tom Noonan
Directed by: Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Rated: R for violence, language and some drug use.
Parental Notes: “Knockaround Guys” may look like a comedy from the trailers but it has a number of intense sequences inappropriate for younger teens.
“Knockaround Guys” has a stellar cast and the previews make it sound like a gangster comedy with some action thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the film itself feels like the co-directors (also the co-writers) tried to compromise between making a wry comedy and making a tragedy. The result is a mishmash that never quite lives up to the quality of its individual scenes.
The story is simple. Matty (Parry Pepper) and his friend Chris (Andrew Davoli) are the sons of famous mobsters, unable to make it as gangsters because their fathers see them as unworthy and unable to make it in legitimate work because everyone connects them to their dads.
Matty persuades his father Benny (Dennis Hopper) to let him arrange for the transportation of a bag of money across the country. Unfortunately, Matty’s airplane pilot Marbles (Seth Green) is none too fast on his feet and manages to lose the bag in the tiny town of Wiebaux. So Matty, Chris, and their friend Taylor (Vin Diesel) come to try and take care of things.
Wiebaux is run by an ex-Marine sheriff (Tom Noonan), who manages to get hold of the bag of cash and has no intentions of letting it go. When Matty’s uncle Teddy (John Malkovich) and his cohorts show up to help Matty out getting the money back, things go from bad to worse.
The individual characters feel like they’re directly out of a comedy film. Matty is the good kid who wants to live up to what he thinks his dad wants. Chris is a slick ladies’ man. Marbles is a dimwitted but good natured buddy. Taylor is a big tough guy who sees things the way they are.
Unfortunately, the film takes these characters and puts them into a movie about the inherent tragedy of organized crime. The story starts out with the makings of a madcap comedy and has a number of very funny scenes, but turns into something grim and dark and by the end the humor is gone and all that’s left are undeveloped characters and a depressingly bad taste in the back of the mouth from all the blood.
There are conversations that border on the genuinely moving, but the characters who are talking are so underdeveloped that it’s hard to take them seriously. The comedy suffers from being mixed in with such serious drama, and never quite reaches the sublime hilarity that it could have.
The film was indeed made by two people, and it’s easy to speculate that one wanted to make a comedy and the other wanted to make a tragedy. What they should have done was make two different films. Instead, what the audience gets is a stellar cast wasted in a film that compromises between two extremes while committing to neither.