Five minutes into the deplorable Knockaround Guys you know why it sat on the shelf for a couple of years.
The movie opens with mobster Teddy Deserve (an embarrassing John Malkovich) trying to force 12-year-old Matty Demeret (Andrew Francis) to shoot the man who — according to Deserve — betrayed the boy’s father. When the hapless victim — tied to a chair and awaiting execution — protests his innocence, Deserve silences him by cutting out his tongue, saying, “I feel better already.” The boy can’t bring himself to commit murder, so Deserve and his buddies trundle him outside, claim they’re just going to rough-up the victim a little, and then we hear the sound of gunshots. What a charming opening for a movie being marketed as a kind of gangland comedy! It doesn’t get better.
The movie then flashes forward to Matty Demeret as an adult (now played by Barry Pepper) trying to get himself a job as a sports promoter, presenting the fact that he’s seen a lot of sports as his sole credential for the job. According to the script, though, he doesn’t get the job because — wait for it — his father’s a gangster. This is a new wrinkle, I suppose. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a movie that hinged on social injustice for mobsters.
Since he can’t get a job in the real world, Matty is driven into the family “business,” claiming to be ready for a life of crime and brutality. Once this is set up, the film only goes further downhill. How far? Well, far and away the best thing in Knockaround Guys is Vin Diesel. Now, that’s pretty sobering.
The script is just plain awful and virtually incoherent. Why on earth would gangster dad Dennis Hopper entrust his totally unproven son with a life-or-death mission? Why would the son hire his coked-out buddy, Johnny Marbles (Seth Green), to carry out the job? Well, apart from the fact that these are the only things that give the film its story, there can be no explanation. Marbles, of course, manages to screw up a simple job — flying $500,000 across the country — and the plot kicks into gear, trying to milk laughs out of a bunch of wannabe gangsters up against equally inept corrupt lawmen in Montana. It’s almost never funny and frequently offensive in its pointless, blood-bath violence. It’s always tedious.
The performances are dreadful. Barry Pepper’s Matty is supposed to be sympathetic, but he only seems whiney and stupid. Seth Green’s “characterization” is just a one-note joke. Old pros Malkovich and Hopper are no better, doing broad Italian-gangster caricatures. The only person who emerges with any dignity is indeed Diesel, who works much better in support than in the lead. It’s not a great performance, but it’s all there is to hold onto in Knockaround Guys, one of the worst films to come along in a year with no shortage of candidates for that accolade.