Monday, October 21, 2002

Knockaround Guys / 1/2* (2002)

So there it was, the single most joyless film of the year, ejecting its pitiful energies off the screen in the same revolting way that I was staring at it. When the lights finally went up and the closing credits began to roll, the feeling of frustration polluted the air like expired milk, and I remember wondering how, just how, it was possible for any sane human being to unleash this kind of garbage on unsuspecting moviegoers in the hopes that someone would find it amusing. "Well that was dumb!", one of my colleagues remarked at the theater exit. Close call, but not quite an appropriate one; after all, even dumb movies are at least ambitious enough to be negative. When it comes to "Knockaround Guys," the latest clone to the ongoing "Reservoir Dogs" legacy, the only remotely energetic aspect of the project is the fact that characters occasionally use words with more than two syllables.

"Knockaround Guys" is as cheap and tawdry as movie experiences come, a dead zone of a film that lacks shape and rhythm, has no true moments of excitement, is horribly shot, and has just about as much steam as a frozen lamb chop. And that's somewhat of a surprise, you might say, considering the talented ensemble cast associated with the endeavor; not only do we have popular new stars like Vin Diesel and Seth Green in the picture, but also topnotch veteran actors like Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich as well. What exactly inspired them to sign on with this project? Was it a bribe? Blackmail? Threats? The answer would likely be more interesting than anything this movie has to offer us.

The plot (or lack thereof) is focused on Matty Demaret (Barry Pepper), the son of famous gangster Benny "Chains" Demaret (Dennis Hopper), who strives to make a life for himself outside of his dad's Brooklyn crime ring. Early on in the picture, we see a young Matty emotionally scarred by the prospect of organized crime when his father's top hit man, Teddy Deserve (John Malkovich) drags the boy into a basement and puts a gun in his hand, hoping he will pull the trigger and eliminate the mob's latest squealer. Naturally he is unable to do so, and when the movie advances to several years later, we see him taking his crusade for individuality to any business willing to hire him, although once aware of his links, no employer would even consider offering him a job.

What comes of this predicament is really not much to even deserve a recap here, so I'll make it brief: Matty and a few of his friends (Diesel's Taylor, Green's Johnny, and a guy named Chris played by Andrew Davoli) join forces to help the big crime boss with delivering a crucial wad of cash in less than 48 hours, although when the money goes missing in a rural community to the west, the predicament gets rather complicated... or so the movie wants us to believe.

"Knockaround Guys" has a butt-load of problems that it never overcomes (not that it has the energy to even try to combat them), but one of the most notable is how flimsy the script becomes when it's trying to probe the characters and their eccentric behaviors. We learn little of the central player Matty other than the fact that he hates mob association, and when he's trying to converse with his friends about why he feels pressured in these situations, we don't feel any kind of sympathetic connection for him. Other characters, like Green's Johnny and Malkovich's Teddy, are immediately lost in old mob movie clich├ęs, while Diesel and Davoli are in the frame, I gather, simply to provide the film with some kind of window dressing for the ladies.

But the movie's most unforgivable detractor is that it's a massive walking package of incompetence; the lighting is bad, the score is cringe-worthy, the dialogue is cheap and over-dramatic, the plot twists have no vigor, and the climax is so obviously foreseen that you don't care who lives or dies during the inevitable big shoot-out. There is a shot in the last half when Teddy is forced to make a point to his young comrades over the phone regarding the lost money. "If we don't get that bag," he says, "then we meet the three 'R's: the Roof, the River, or the Revolver." Needless to say, any three of those punishments would be kindness compared to sitting through this travesty again.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Cast & Crew info:
Barry Pepper: Matty Demaret
Vin Diesel: Taylor Reese
Seth Green: Johnny Marbles
Andrew Davoli: Chris Scarpa
Dennis Hopper: Benny 'Chains' Demaret
John Malkovich: Teddy Deserve

Produced by Lawrence Bender, Michael De Luca, Julie Kirkham, Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Brian Witten, Stan Wlodkowski; Directed and screenwritten by Brian Koppelman and David Levien

Action (US); Rated R for violence, language and some drug use; Running Time - 93 Minutes

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