Made (review)

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All Mobbed Up

Made is not the film Jon Favreau was “shooting” two years ago in an episode of The Sopranos — you remember, when Christopher Moltisanti fancied himself getting into the movie biz, and he visited the set of a film Favreau was directing starring Sandra Bernhard and Janeane Garofalo. But I bet it was partly inspired by that experience.

Made is, in fact, Favreau’s directorial debut, though he’s so intimately connected with the cult flick Swingers — which he wrote — that many people think he directed that one, too. A sort of emotional sequel to Swingers, Made, also written by and starring Favreau, takes great advantage of the offscreen friendship of Favreau and his costar Vince Vaughn, just as Swingers did, to highlight the unsteady relationship between two friends with very different hopes and dreams for themselves.
Bobby (Favreau: Love and Sex) is a Los Angeles boxer with a bad fight record who nevertheless holds out hope for a career in the sport. On the side he does odd jobs for the crime organization run by Max (Peter Falk), a crusty old gangster: construction work, bodyguarding Jess (Famke Janssen: X-Men), the stripper with whom he’s fallen in love. Ricky (Vaughn: The Cell) is a bit of an albatross for Bobby: a troublemaker and a user, Ricky still inspires the loyalty of long-standing friendship in Bobby, no matter how much he uses and abuses that relationship.

Favreau and Vaughn are perfect complements for each other onscreen: Favreau the introspective and serious one, Vaughn manic and slightly deranged. Vaughn never shuts up and can’t keep still; Favreau barely moves at all. Their palpable chemistry is all the explanation we need for why Bobby puts up with Ricky… or agrees to take him along on a job Max sets out for them: Run an errand to New York. Max offers no details, just gives the guys plane tickets, wads of cash, and a beeper through which instructions will come in New York.

Made avoids any kind of crime-movie cliché, mining new comedy from its unique characters and their impossibly low standing in the mob. Bobby and Ricky never have any idea what’s going on. Ricky suspects it’s all a setup to whack them both, but he revels in the thought, dropping mob lingo cluelessly but with gusto — he’s getting off on giving the impression that he’s a made guy. Bobby just can’t wait to get this one last job over with — he has every intention of quitting Max’s organization for good after this one.

The Mexican tried the same basic story earlier this year, and failed miserably. Favreau succeeds brilliantly because he refuses to cash in on any of the mob-chic he could have drawn on for an easy retro-anti-cool hipness, particularly in this crime-doesn’t-pay-but-it’s-still-fascinating Sopranos era. There’s nothing alluring about the life Bobby wants out of and Ricky wants more of — it’s ugly and nasty and eats people up. It’s enough to cheer that Bobby gets out in the end with his humanity intact… and sets Ricky on that road, as well.

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