One mug is an uptight worrywart, the other a recklessly loose cannon, and the seriocomic account of their misadventures plays like "Mean Streets Lite." In "Made," their first onscreen collaboration since "Swingers," Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn co-star as not-so-wise guys who journey from L.A. to Manhattan for a tryout as freelance "muscle."
One mug is an uptight worrywart, the other a recklessly loose cannon, and the seriocomic account of their misadventures plays like “Mean Streets Lite.” In “Made,” their first onscreen collaboration since “Swingers,” Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn co-star as not-so-wise guys who journey from L.A. to Manhattan for a tryout as freelance “muscle” for an old-time crime boss. Despite interminable stretches of showoffy semi-improvisation, shaggy-dog plot is fitfully amusing and two leads generate engaging chemistry. Even so, rough-edged indie pic likely will attract more attention in video stores than megaplexes.
Favreau plays Bobby, a thirtysomething, vaguely mob-connected fellow who’s past his prime as an amateur boxer and too soft-hearted for his own good. When he escorts Jessica (Famke Janssen), his stripper girlfriend, to private parties, he can’t control his urge to protect her from rowdy guys trying to fondle the merchandise. And when he’s at his day job at a construction site, he spends most of his time covering for Ricky (Vaughn), his irresponsible buddy and co-worker.
Ricky thinks he and Bobby should pursue more profitable and prestigious jobs in the organization of Max (Peter Falk), the aging gangster who already employs Bobby as Jessica’s part-time driver. Bobby agrees, hoping to earn enough to “save” single mom Jessica and her kid; that Jessica really isn’t interested in being saved never occurs to the poor guy.
Max likes Bobby more than he actively dislikes Ricky, so he agrees to give the two buddies a chance. He sends them to New York with enigmatic instructions to follow orders from Ruiz (rapper Sean Combs), a downtown gangsta involved in money laundering. Ricky and Bobby are supposed to maintain a low profile but discretion is a totally alien concept to Ricky, a blowhard who insults or annoys just about everyone he meets.
There’s really just a wisp of storyline, capped off with an ironic coda that’s too rushed to be fully effective. Pic evidences signs of last-minute cutting, especially at the end of a confrontation in a Hell’s Kitchen bar. Favreau probably shot a more violent climax originally, but one gets the impression that, from the start, he wanted to make a character study rather than a conventional comedy-drama.
Much of “Made” is given over to extended scenes with Bobby and Ricky in which conversations escalate into arguments, recriminations and even fisticuffs: Bobby is determined not to make a move without Ruiz’s advance approval, but Ricky refuses to wait for instructions.
Repeating his “Swingers” chores as screenwriter and lead player, Favreau adds to his multihyphenate status in “Made” by making his feature helming debut. He strives a shade too obviously for a faux cinema verite look, encouraging purposefully ragged lensing by Chris Doyle (who also shot Wong Kar-Wai’s far more polished “In the Mood for Love”) and often jarringly abrupt editing by Curtiss Clayton.
In the same vein, he gives virtually free rein to co-star (and co-producer) Vaughn’s flights of thesping excess. Unfortunately, Vaughn repeatedly crosses the line between persuasively playing an obnoxious character and coming across as nerve-gratingly self-indulgent.
To be fair, however, it should be noted that a few of Vaughn’s one-on-ones with Favreau (whose perf is appreciably more subdued and subtle) are charged with the sort of edgy unpredictability that’s usually associated with indie pix of the late John Cassavetes. That impression is enhanced by the presence of Falk, a vet Cassavetes collaborator, who scores maximum impact in a small but key role. “Made” may remind more esoteric film buffs of Elaine May’s “Mikey and Nicky,” the 1976 cult fave in which Falk and Cassavetes played friendly but frequently contentious low-level mob types.
Among the other supporting players, standouts include Combs, who infuses the surprisingly sophisticated Ruiz with crude wit and daunting menace, and Faizon Love as Ruiz’s overworked right-hand man. Vincent Pastore makes every moment count as a limo driver who’s even handier when he’s not behind the wheel. And Janssen once again demonstrates her impressive range with another precisely shaded, affecting cameo, not unlike her excellent turn in Ted Demme’s “Monument Avenue.”