Here’s Knockaround Guys summarized in a single image. Four Brooklyn goombahs with mob connections dressed in expensive black leather try to shake down a tiny Montana town of rednecks, survivalists, and cowboys. As Roger Ebert might say, there was an explosion at the genre factory.
The mix of gangster and western is amusing, and for the most part, it works. Knockaround Guys is uneven, but at least it is fun.
Half a Million Marbles
R for violence, language
Barry Pepper (We Were Soldiers, Saving Private Ryan) plays Matty, the son of a Brooklyn mob boss. He’s not cut out for a life of organized crime, but he can’t get legitimate work because of his last name. Nobody wants to hire someone connected to the Mafia; it’s just asking for trouble.
The supporting cast includes some big-name stars. Vin Diesel makes a grand entrance as Matty’s best friend Taylor, a muscle man for the mob. Seth Green is Marbles, a wannabe with a pilot’s license and a cocaine habit. Dennis Hopper is Matty’s dad Benny Chains, whose branch of the Organization is having financial difficulties. John Malkovich is Matty’s favorite uncle Teddy and Benny’s right-hand man.
Marbles and Matty both want to work for Benny Chains, but neither has his respect. Marbles used to use drugs and Matty failed a “guts” test when he was a child. Nevertheless, Matty convinces his uncle and father to let him handle a little delivery job with Marbles.
Marbles picks up the package — half a million dollars in cash — and on his way home manages to lose it at a tiny little airport in Montana. He calls Matty, who brings Taylor and his other friend Chris (Andrew Davoli) to town to try to settle the matter before his father finds out they screwed up.
Knockaround Guys has good offbeat energy. It fits into the comically violent, stylized action movie genre defined by Pulp Fiction. Before Vin Diesel kicks ass, he delivers a stone-cold speech worthy of Samuel L. Jackson.
There is a particularly good scene that shows how smart this movie could have been. The town’s sheriff (Tom Noonan) has gotten his hands on the money. The Mafiosi have just unsuccessfully tried to bully him into returning it. They speculate as to why he hasn’t called the FBI yet, trying to anticipate his next move. The film cuts to the sheriff in his office, talking with his deputy about why the Mafiosi haven’t left town yet, trying to anticipate their next move.
Unfortunately, Knockaround Guys is unable to keep up that intelligence and interest all the way through. The occasional movie cliche sneaks in, particularly toward the end. The film even uses my least favorite movie cliche, reported in “Ebert’s Little Movie Dictionary” as Talking Villain Syndrome, where the bad guy spills his guts to the protagonist just before he intends to kill him.
Knockaround Guys is a mixed bag. The script is uneven; one of the subplots even disappears without a trace. Luckily, the charismatic cast and the film’s adequate sense of humor and style are enough to hold an audience’s interest for 90 minutes.