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Knockaround Guys
2001 - R - 91 Mins.
Director: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Producer: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Written By: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Starring: Barry Pepper, Andrew Davoli, Seth Green, Vin Diesel, John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper, Tom Noonan
Review by: Marc Eastman
There are two genres that I really enjoy, but am getting bored with, and for the same reasons. ‘Sting’ movies, and movies having anything to do with the Mob. Both types of movies appeal to me, but at this point we’ve pretty much covered all the bases. Both ideas have already been hit from every angle, and they both have some great movies already going for them. Thus, I’m at the stage now where any new movie in either genre is saddled with both my desire to like it, and my extreme doubt that I actually will. ‘Knockaround Guys’ is trying (a bit) to work both genres, though of course it’s much more wiseguy than hustler.

Written and Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who wrote ‘Rounders’, the movie has a very similar feel. It moves like ‘Rounders’, and it talks like ‘Rounders’, but it doesn’t really look like ‘Rounders’. This isn’t a particularly difficult movie to direct (being, in some sense, glorified television), so there isn’t that much you can do wrong, but what you can, they do. It tries to be too artistic with several shots, scene layouts, and especially with a great deal of the angles from which we see things, but being what it is, it can only go so far wrong.

As I said, with any new mob movie you’ve got to put a new spin on things. We’ve seen it all before, and most of it done rather well. Instead of putting a spin on the story (though the story is one that isn’t too tired), ‘Knockaround Guys’ puts the spin on the way the story is told. It’s trying to be mostly funny, even to the extent that it often approaches becoming a spoof.

Matty (Barry Pepper - '61*’, ‘We Were Soldiers’) is the son of mob boss Benny Chains (Dennis Hopper), and he spends most of his time wishing he wasn’t. But, after repeated attempts at getting a legit job are foiled when his father’s name comes up, he’s about had it, and resigns himself that the legit world won’t let him in. Unfortunately, the non-legit world isn’t especially eager to have him either, as his father doesn’t quite believe in him, or his abilities.

An opportunity arises for Matty to prove himself by way of transporting a bag of money. Matty enlists the help of friend, and pilot, Marbles (Seth Green - ‘The Italian Job’, the Austin Powers movies, and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’). It’s a simple job. Fly out, pick up bag, fly back. Of course, when Marbles stops to refuel, he loses the bag. To be fair though, during the stop Marbles is confronted by the local sheriff (Tom Noonan), and I don’t know if Marbles has seen ‘Manhunter’, but being confronted by a person who is both Tom Noonan, and a cop is no small thing.

Matty must now enlist the aid of his friends, Scarpa (Andrew Davoli - ‘Welcome to Collinwood’, ‘The Sopranos’) and Taylor (Vin Diesel - ‘XXX’, ‘The Fast and the Furious’), to go with him to the sleepy town, and try to recover the money. One thing after another goes wrong, and where you would normally say that hilarity ensues at this point, you just know that someone you want to live is probably going to get whacked.

There’s nothing really wonderful about ‘Knockaround Guys’, but at least it knows it, and thus gives the audience a chance to have a good time. It’s fun. It certainly isn’t great, but there isn’t anything particularly bad about it either. It’s got a wink of a plot going on, and certain moments are pretty obviously thrown in just because ‘wouldn’t it be cool if...’ (like Vin Diesel beating the hell out of an ugly, redneck), but it’s a movie that’s honest about what game it’s playing. Much like ‘Rounders’, it’s not aiming at greatness. Rather, it has the goal (one not to be dismissed, I think) of making something a little better out of ‘average’, and it succeeds. It’s average in just about every conceivable way, except that it’s actually pretty good.

Also like ‘Rounders’, it actually has some pretty decent acting in it. John Malkovich, as Matty’s ‘Uncle Teddy’, gives his usual fine performance, serving as a sort of glue that keeps different aspects of the story together. His character is, frankly, a bit too ‘John Malkovichy’, but he has some good lines, and doesn’t push anyone else aside. Tom Noonan, as Andy Griffith with a big stick and an attitude, carries his scenes smoothly, and really makes you believe that he hasn’t had a facial expression in twenty odd years. Even actors I don’t normally like worked here. Barry Pepper, current popularity aside, never really did much for me, but he has an entire film to front here, and he does a good job. He’s a little stale at times, but he never gets to the point of really distracting. Vin Diesel is the real surprise, because I can hardly stand him at all generally. He actually acts here, and doesn’t do at all bad. Opening scenes do not flatter his abilities, but once we get further in he actually makes a character out of it. Seth Green, who has been playing Johnny Marbles his whole career (metaphorically) is capable of putting out a better role, but he fits.

Ultimately, ‘Knockaround Guys’ is average, but it’s surefire average. It’s doubtful that you’ll sing its praises, but you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time either. Let it be what it is, a bit of a good time just for the hell of it, and you’ll enjoy yourself. Call it 3.5 stars.
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

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