Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Knockaround Guys

Brooklyn, 1987. The adolescent son of a mob kingpin, groomed for his rite of passage into the cold-blooded elite, is handed a gun and asked to shoot a gangster rat (and old family friend) at point-blank range. Hearing the man's plea for mercy, he is conscience-stricken and can't pull the trigger, which leads his superiors to conclude that he's simply not cut out for this line of work. But his present-day attempt to enter his father's inner circle reveals another, more fundamental flaw: He and his cronies are stupefyingly inept criminals. Had Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the writer-directors of Knockaround Guys, realized how close they were to making a comedy, they might have lightened the hard-nosed gangster theatrics and lampooned a generation of screw-ups entering a Mafia in decline. As it stands, the long-shelved film is like Big Deal On Madonna Street played straight, leaving a novice group of ne'er-do-well crooks to patch up a simple operation that has somehow careened wildly out of control. It all starts when Barry Pepper, the brooding, humorless hero, gives up his efforts to find legitimate work and begs his father (Dennis Hopper) for another chance at his rightful place in the organization. After some cajoling from right-hand man John Malkovich, Hopper reluctantly agrees to put Pepper in charge of a simple mission to retrieve a bag of money from Spokane and return it to New York. Eager to dictate authority, Pepper makes his first colossal blunder by sending his buddy Seth Green to pick up the money alone in his prop plane, knowing that Green is notoriously flaky and a mere 10 months off his cocaine addiction. Sure enough, the $500,000 haul winds up in the hands of two stoners from small-town Montana, who conspicuously spend the loot on fistfuls of beef jerky. With Green and two other would-be gangsters (Vin Diesel and Andrew Davoli) in tow, Pepper resorts to the equally questionable Plan B: Smoke out the culprits by finding the toughest guy in town and beating the life out of him. Of course, Pepper never considers the negative implications of a bunch of urban thugs drawing attention to themselves, especially when the crooked local sheriff (Tom Noonan) gets involved. And so the film goes, piling on dilemmas and confrontations that might easily have been avoided with a modicum of common sense. Though not bereft of comedic moments—Malkovich, with an indeterminate Jersey accent, hogs most of the good lines—Knockaround Guys proceeds with a gravity that's constantly tripped up by its characters' stupidity. Somewhere in the script, Koppelman and Levien have a workable idea about gangsters and cowboys pitted against each other in the New West. But instead, they wind up with a bunch of kids scrambling to clean up the aftermath of a party before their parents get home.