| July 23, 2001

It’s been a few years since Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn emerged from the indie scene with the hilarious cult hit Swingers. Kind of a blue-collar, character-actor counterpart to golden boys Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the pair rode the Favreau-written, Doug Liman-directed breakthrough film to some Hollywood credibility, each scoring plenty of roles in bigger films throughout the rest of the 90s. But neither actor has really capitalized on the recognition Swingers brought them. Their new film, Made, is Jon Favreau’s first turn as a director and his first shot at writing (for film) since that mid-90’s ode to the LA nightlife.
But Swingers this is not. Made is not as breezy as that earlier film (nor as entertaining), but it doesn’t try to be. This is a much darker film, and although there are some funny parts, it can’t really be called a comedy. The story follows Bobby (Favreau) and Ricky (Vaughn), two childhood friends who take what should be a simple job from a local mob boss for different reasons. Bobby wants to get some quick cash with which to pull his girlfriend (Famke Janssen) out of her stripper gig, and Ricky is looking for a way to break into the fast lane of organized crime.
Grounded, calm and responsible, Bobby is an amateur boxer who has the sense to know he isn’t going to make it in the ring, but has a decent streak that prevents him from opting to make money any other less legal way. So he continues to box and work as a driver/bouncer for his girlfriend, around whom he has a tendency to get a little rough when her customers manhandle her too much. After one such altercation costs her boss, Max (Peter Falk), a few grand, he suggests that Bobby work it off by making a money drop for him in New York City. Although Bobby has no interest in getting involved in Max’s criminal endeavors, he reluctantly agrees, in order to get his girlfriend and her daughter out from under Max’s thumb. Bobby’s biggest mistake is his loyalty to his friend Ricky, an obnoxious blowhard who thinks he’s smooth as ice but is really just a drip. Nearly every conversation the pair has ends in a scuffle, always due to Ricky’s relentless mouth.
Vince Vaughn really hasn’t had a great role, or a great performance, since his ultra-confident Trent walked away with Swingers. This reunion with Favreau finally showcases his talent once again. Vaughn steals this movie, like he stole Swingers, with his role as the obnoxiously aggressive Ricky, a character who plays like the dark side of Trent. Remember his last two scenes in that one, when Vaughn is the drunken idiot at the diner, and then later when he gets knocked down a notch after seemingly flirting with a doting mother? That’s the character he plays here: A guy who fancies himself a smooth operator and is constantly trying to prove it. But one who’s really just an overbearing moron who steps on everyone’s toes and can’t keep his mouth shut to save his life.
Here, rather than having Vaughn’s character shepherd Favreau’s through a rough patch, Bobby is the one keeping Ricky under control. Or trying to. Bobby vouches for Ricky with Max, and soon the pair is off to New York with some very specific — and very limited — instructions, which Ricky immediately flaunts at every opportunity. Playing against the motormouth Vaughn, Favreau does a good job staying stoic and filling the tough guy Guinea role that both Max and the screenplay call for. It’s obvious that Bobby is a good guy, honest, hardworking and caring, and, while he might not be cut out for a criminal life, he certainly seems like he’d be good at it. But his heart is elsewhere, mostly back in LA, with his girlfriend and her cute little five year-old daughter, for whom he plays surrogate daddy. He is doing the drop for them, regardless of how ungrateful his girlfriend might be.
As Bobby and Ricky navigate the New York nightlife, they rendezvous with Ruiz, a hard-edged, smooth talking gangster played with a calm, refined intensity by Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy/P. Diddy. As much as it pains me to admit it, Combs does a good job with his role of the put-upon gangster who is too smooth to withstand Ricky’s blunt, overbearing idiocy. When Ricky drops terms like “strapped” and “dis,” it’s almost too much for Ruiz to deal with. Funny as Vaughn is in the role, the character is designed to get under the other characters — and even the audience’s — skin. And he certainly does; watch for the scene on the airplane.
But as well as the two of them work together, the dark directorial tone and thematic aspirations don’t quite mesh with the hip dialogue and in-too-deep comic situations. Favreau’s dialogue remains as snappy and engaging as it was in 1996, and it is admirable for him to try and cut deeper with his feature directorial debut. But Made’s nightlife montages and symbolic close-ups of fish out of water and irritated penguins don’t entirely mix, and when the pair end up hanging with a giant mouse (you’ll see), the movie has taken a path into schmaltzy goodness that is neither expected nor entirely logical, but is still engaging and funny.With some amusing support from Faizon Love and Dustin Diamond (that’s right, Screech), some stock characterization from The Sopranos’ Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore), and a few too many Hollywood friends making appearances, Favreau’s Made is a bit too uneven to completely succeed. But it comes close, and is a welcome distraction from this summer’s string of vapid disappointments.
And if Vaughn can continue to find roles that suit him as well as his friends have, maybe he will make it after all.

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