There’s a reason “Knockaround Guys”, a mob drama about low-level footsoldiers trying to prove their worth, ended up on the shelf despite having been completed in 2000-2001. The film finally saw theatrical screens in 2002, and you could contribute that little miracle to the presence of rising superstar Vin Diesel (“XXX”), who co-stars in the movie.
The real lead of “Knockaround Guys” is Barry Pepper, who last co-starred with Diesel in “Saving Private Ryan”. Pepper plays Matty, the son of well-known New York mob boss Benny Chains (Dennis Hopper in a cameo), who in an effort to prove himself worthy of the mob life, and garner his father’s acceptance at the same time, sets up a supposedly easy exchange of $500,000 from the west coast to New York by way of a private plane owned by Marbles (Seth Green). While stopping to get gas in Montana, the unreliable Marbles manages to lose the money, which gets into the hands of two stoners, and eventually ends up with the crooked sheriff of a Montana hick town.
Matty assembles 2 friends, the tough enforcer Taylor (Vin Diesel) and the smooth talking Chris (Andrew Davoli), and arrives in Montana to recover the cash. Tom Noonan plays Decker, the redneck sheriff who proves that rednecks aren’t just dumb because they’re not very well educated, but also because they fail to see that stealing $500,000 from well-known mobsters is not a good idea. The whole thing caps off with a shootout in a beef factory between the sheriff and his single deputy versus what seems like half of the New York mob.
As I said before, there’s a reason why it took “Knockaround Guys” 2 years to see the light of day. The film is highly derivative, and is composed of cliché and elements that we’ve seen in numerous mob dramas. The film is really a collage of the foursome walking around the small town trying to impress the locals with how “tough” they are. The film is pretty straightforward, and there is almost no action until the climax at the end. It also doesn’t help that the film has very little style or flash. The movie just doesn’t look all that good.
Taking a cue more from other mob movies instead of real mafia life, the men of “Knockaround Guys” all dress like dapper dons (with the exception of tough guy Taylor and loser Marbles) instead of the uneducated goombahs that they really are, and as truthfully depicted in “The Sopranos”. Besides that, every actor in the film, besides Diesel and Green, seems to be making up their own version of an “Italian accent”. The biggest violator is John Malkovich, who has created an accent that doesn’t seem to be from anywhere on Earth.
The only really outstanding scene in “Knockaround Guys” is when the foursome goes to a redneck country and western bar and Taylor gets into a fight with the “toughest guy in town” in order to “spread the word” about their lost money. As written by co-directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien, our goombahs plan on using the toughest redneck in town to do their legwork for them. Of course, after being summarily trounced by Taylor, it’s still a mystery to me why the redneck does go out in search of the money. For that matter, what exactly qualified him as “running” the town in the first place?
There is one other aspect of “Knockaround Guys” that I liked. The whole notion that these goombahs, with all their street toughness, are still gunshy around Decker. Apparently these guys are so afraid to tangle with the law, regardless of county or level, that they’re even thinking about leaving town without the money. This little element brings a grounded level to the film, which avoids massive shootouts in the streets in broad daylight because, as the goombahs rightly consider, it’ll only bring more law down on their heads. Then again, this doesn’t exactly explain the gunfight at the end, leaving nearly a dozen dead bodies in its wake and with no signs of any evidence being gotten rid of. Wouldn’t this bring down a lot of law, too?
“Knockaround Guys” is a direct-to-video movie in every respects. It’s not very original, and there is a lot about it that just doesn’t ring true, or makes very much sense. At just 85 minutes of running them including credits, at least it went by quickly.
Brian Koppelman, David Levien (director) / Brian Koppelman, David Levien (screenplay)
CAST: Barry Pepper …. Matty Demaret
Andrew Davoli …. Chris Scarpa
Seth Green …. Johnny Marbles
Vin Diesel …. Taylor Reese
John Malkovich …. Teddy Deserve
Arthur J. Nascarella …. Billy Clueless
Tom Noonan …. Sheriff Decker