"A lot going on. But there always is, isn't there?" observes Ricky (Vince Vaughn). It's an apt description of Jon Favreau's directorial debut, "Made," which he also wrote. Ricky is the irresponsible best friend of Bobby (Favreau), whose night job is bodyguard and driver for his stripper girlfriend Jessica ("Famke Janssen," "X-Men"). Bobby dreams of getting her out of the business and settling with her and her small daughter like a real family. He sees his chance when old-time mob boss Max (Peter Falk) offers him an opportunity he can't refuse, and he brings his best pal aboard. They're going to be the muscle on a job.
Basically a buddy movie, the story uses the gangster genre to flirt with danger without ever losing its sense of humor. "My goal was to do a classic mobster piece ... but from the perspective of two regular guys who have no experience with organized crime," says Favreau. Like the literal fish out of water glimpsed onscreen, these clueless L.A. innocents arrive in New York, falling into the underworld of downtown gangsta Ruiz (Sean Combs) and Hell's Kitchen's Irish mobsters.
Favreau has a few other fish to fry. Character, rather than conventional comedy, drives this small indie, with a smart, funny, credible and unpredictable script. Favreau's an actor who favors an improvisational style, and he gave free reign to the actors while shooting. It's matched by cinema-verite camera work by Australian cinematographer Chris Doyle (best known for his collaborations with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, "In the Mood For Love" and "Chung King Express"). While some of the improvised dialogue is stretched and some visual fuzziness appears, the approach results in a looseness and spontaneity that pulls you along.
Vaughn and Favreau possess great comic chemistry and their dynamic makes this movie well worth watching. Much humor lies in their contrasting personalities and outlooks, one guarded and quiet, the other the proverbial bull in a china shop, but dumber, with a mouth that never shuts up. Ricky's gab is a running joke, and it results in the leads' faces bruised and battered most of their screentime from their inevitable disagreements. Vaughn walks a fine line between his character annoying others and himself annoying the audience rather than entertaining. If you like to see an actor testing the boundaries, watch Vaughn closely.
Also of interest is Combs in his on-screen debut. Adding a smoothness that Bobby and Ricky lack, he delivers an unexpected combination of danger and bemused warmth quite convincingly. Faizon Love as Horrace, Ruiz's muscle, provides added humor. It's too bad that Falk has limited screen time; his presence brings to mind the independent films of John Cassavetes, who surely must be an influence on Favreau. But Favreau is sweet where Cassavetes is tough.
The movie's title alludes to Ricky's belief that the duo has it "made" and can ignore their job to enjoy their new lifestyle of limos, women and clubs. Predictably, his error leads them into very hot water. Underlying the comedy and irony, there's also an innocence. Thrown into the unknown, both are at a crossroads in their lives.
"Made" marks the onscreen reunion of Favreau and Vaughn following Doug Li-man's indie hit "Swingers," which Favreau also wrote. That movie featured a small group of 20-something male friends on the Hollywood retro-swing cocktail-lounge circuit, co-starring Vaughn as a smooth fast talker and Favreau on the lovesick rebound. Favreau says many people wanted to see a sequel, but he couldn't imagine them as 30-somethings "worrying about whether or not a girl calls back."
"Made," he adds, is "a reflection of where we are now." If you're a fan of the earlier flick and into the present moment, you'll enjoy this movie. It's "money" ... the smart money.