Favreau and Vaughn's Latest Comedy Ain't Got That Swing
After plaguing pop culture with the short-lived "lounge" craze via the extremely annoying Swingers, writer/actor Jon Favreau debuts as an auteur with Made. A sorta-mobster comedy that's light on laughs, it at least bodes ill for any new wave of future sorta-mobster comedies.
Made tells of two mismatched ne'er-do-well boxing buddies living in Los Angeles: ham-hock-headed skirt-chaser Ricky (Swingers co-star Vince Vaughn) and his ever-suffering pal Bobby (Favreau). The two annoy Jewish gangster Max (Peter Falk) so much that he offers to send them to New York to do unspecified gangster stuff. In buddy comedies, each buddy must change and their relationship must be redefined. But here, Ricky stays the same insufferable asshole he was when the movie began.
What is it with Vaughn? For all its smirky cool, Swingers at least showed the actor to have a fascinating, edgy charisma. He was like a brawny, wired Anthony Perkins, until he got all weird playing Perkins' greatest role in Gus Van Sant's stunningly unnecessary Psycho reshoot. Since then, Vaughn's been either somnolent (The Cell), getting into bar fights (he was recently arraigned for his involvement in the fisticuffs that landed Steve Buscemi in the hospital), or, as in Made, acting in this otherworldly creep mode.
But right--Made. Really, it's not awful. And it does offer the yummy Famke Janssen--playing Jess, a stripper with a heart of rusted tin--a chance to model some fine lingerie, which doesn't happen nearly enough in modern cinema.
And Made has Peter Falk. Any scene with Falk is by definition a good scene. As any real actor will tell you, the hardest thing to do is comedy--to be a passable comedian, you've got to be a much-better-than-average dramatic actor. You must have a sense of gravity, a believability in absurd situations, an inherent realness. This quality is the heretofore missing link connecting performers such as Sylvester Stallone and George W. Bush. Both can look suitably grave, even compelling, when pummeling a boxer or beating the crap out of a legislature proposing health insurance for small children. But funny? It's simply out of their depth. Falk has not only shined in some of the most dramatic films ever; he's shined in movies directed by John Cassavetes and Wim Wenders, who is German. Just being German is dramatic enough, but in Wenders' Wings of Desire, a movie about death set in Berlin, Falk, playing a depressed American actor, makes us weep and laugh without shedding a drop of sweat.
But right--Made. In Made, Falk is unfortunately seen only at the film's beginning and near-end, which leaves Vaughn plenty of room to perform the acting equivalent of scraping a piece of tin over a fresh cavity. Occasionally, Sean "Puffy" Combs (or whatever he's calling himself this week) pops up as the all-purpose gangsta Ruiz, a role that gives him ample opportunities to glower and wear outstanding suits.
To be fair, Favreau is a likable actor and he doesn't direct that shoddily either, outside of neglecting to give his co-star some Xanax. His script is anemic (reportedly written in a sprightly three months, while in Baltimore shooting The Replacements), but for most of the movie he keeps up a nicely sustained tonal balance between glamorized underworld glitz and bubbling-under violence. Alas, this precarious perch is abandoned late in the film in a nerve-wrackingly violent Irish gang scene, in which everyone not only looks and acts as if related to Gary Oldman but also somehow imparts the terrifying sense of what it would be like to be Gary Oldman. Which, of course, ruins the movie. That and the jokes one assumes Vaughn ate for lunch during his last bout of Tourette's.
Catty remarks aside, Made--distributed by little-studio-that-could Artisan--isn't the worst of indie fare, although it's gruesome to think this is what indie cinema has devolved into: veiled homages to genres the filmmakers don't understand, Actors Studio excess, and absolutely no point of view regarding much of anything. At least Tomb Raider goes out of its way to sell me something, even if that something is more likely to be a synergized pop-up toaster than a tolerable movie. Which means that it's come down to sincere mediocrity vs. craven corporate crud. Which one might consider a depressing choice.