In Swingers (1996), a slight but lively indie film and now minor cult fave (and cable staple) actors Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn displayed an easy chemistry as two buddies adrift on the verge of adulthood, not quite ready to give up their retro dream of being latter-day Rat Pack types, two classy guys about town. They were a comedy duo in the classic mode — Favreau was the big guy with a big guy’s reticence, afraid of making too quick a move, physically or emotionally, for fear of breaking something — while Vaughn was the reckless, smaller guy, too obtuse to be afraid of anything and with an engaging if somewhat weasely charm. Swingers was written by Favreau, and now, with Made, he directs as well, bringing back the two characters but with different names and operating in a different milieu. Actually, the two characters seem to have broadened their original personas, with Favreau now stolidly sane and Vaughn suicidally pushy.
Bobby (Favreau) is working several jobs — smalltime boxer, carpenter, bodyguard in the sleazy joint where his girlfriend does a strip act — and Ricky (Vaughn) is working Bobby, hanging around him, running up debts and generally being a screw-up. The two have been friends since high school and the running gag of the film — if not its whole raison d’etre — is the way their constant bickering escalates to the point where they’re rolling around on the floor, scuffling like little boys. Since their arguing has an improv feel and the camera, when it bobs around handheld style, has an improv look, the ghost of Cassavettes is, perhaps intentionally, invoked. But it’s Cassavettes-lite, a bow to his method but not his substance.
After some character exposition, the plot kicks off when the two are offered a somewhat mysterious courier job by a local mobster named Max (Peter Falk, limited to the single shtick of escalating irritability in what amounts to an extended cameo). This gets the boys to New York and in over their heads, with Bobby being cautiously aware and Ricky being dangerously oblivious. Under the watchful eye of their chauffeur (Vincent Pastore, Big Pussy in “The Sopranos”) they hook up with their connection (Sean Combs, being credible) at which point the movie boils down to the single question: Is Ricky going to get the two killed? It’s a reasonable thing to ask and it gives the film’s denouement a nice, if unbelievable, kick.
Made is mildly entertaining, but it’s no Swingers (which wasn’t all that great to begin with). The fault lies in Favreau’s script. By making Ricky so obnoxious he’s made his own character seem a little slow-witted: Why doesn’t he just dump this loser? Surely the bonds formed during the halcyon days of high-school football games have a real-life expiration date. And Bobby himself is a very likable, realistically flawed character. It would have been interesting to see how he operated without the goofy burden.
Starts Friday at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.