Fast, fresh, funny and brash, writer-director-actor Jon Favreau’s (who wrote and starred in Swingers, with co-star/co-producer Vince Vaughn) Made is the rough-edged winner of the last gasp of summer movies. In tone and somewhat in plot, Made is a kind of simplified and Americanized Snatch — the sort of movie that Sexy Beast wanted to be and never quite was. Favreau and Vaughn play a pair of lifelong friends, Bobby and Ricky (just why Bobby didn’t strangle Ricky at some point in the intervening years is admittedly something of a mystery). Neither one is the sharpest knife in the drawer, though Ricky is clearly the thicker of the duo. Their lives consist of trying to be prize fighters (they aren’t very good) and eking out an existence working construction jobs. Bobby also moonlights as a “driver” for his erotic-dancer girlfriend, Jess (Famke Janssen, X Men) — a job to which he is ill-suited, owing to his jealousy over her interaction with her clients. When Bobby goes ballistic over her lap dance with a patron — resulting in $8,000 worth of dental work for the hapless victim — he gets his “big chance” from small-time crime boss Max (Peter Falk in a tailor-made role). Max offers to let him work off his dental debt in what should be an utterly simple money-laundering scheme. But Bobby’s insistence on bringing Ricky into the game (against Max’s better judgment) more than assures that the results will be anything but simple. The dull-witted Ricky, of course, thinks he knows everything. Unfortunately, most of what he knows is culled from things he’s seen in gangster movies. And his attempts to act like a character out of Goodfellas or TV’s The Sopranos do nothing to endear him to his contact, Ruiz (Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs in a great film debut) — nor do they impress the ladies, as he seems to imagine. In fact, his antics nearly ruin the scheme and constantly threaten to get the pair killed. The idea of real gangsters learning how act like gangsters from the movies isn’t terribly new (it forms the basis of Rouben Mamoulian’s 1936 comedy, The Gay Desperado, and there are hints of it in any number of crime comedies over the years), but Favreau’s film takes the idea to new heights — or depths, as the case may be. Until quite late in the film when Ricky almost does something right, the character is a shameless screw-up. At best, he’s an embarrassment for Bobby. At worst, he’s the ultimate loose cannon — except no one is stupid enough to let him have a gun. The surprise here is that this works, because, viewed objectively, Vaughn’s Ricky is the most annoying character ever committed to film. All that carries the day for him is the combination of his invincible stupidity (you never sense that Ricky is so much bad as merely stuck in perpetual adolescence) and the amazing onscreen chemistry of real-life best friends Favreau and Vaughn. Without Bobby — and Bobby’s somewhat incomprehensible devotion to his friend — Ricky would be unbearable. As a duo, the characters are anchored to the same kind of innate appeal that blessed the teaming of Bing and Bob through the Road pictures all those years ago, and that’s the secret Favreau has tapped into. In a not dissimilar manner, Favreau has shrewdly staged his film in a manner that gives it the illusion of improvisation. Granted, some of the hand-held camerawork may be due to a down-and-dirty shooting schedule for the low-budget film, but the results are undeniably fresh and have a delicious off-the-cuff feeling that makes the film a constant delight.
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