One of the taglines in the promos for this movie was: “welcome to disorganized crime.”
That about says it all.
Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, who developed something of a cult following with their 1996 movie Swingers, go at it again, reprising their roles, if not their characters. The difference is grittier, but in many ways less realistic, film.
Favreau, who also wrote and directed, plays Bobby Ricigliano, an aspiring boxer with a big heart, but not much talent. Vaughn is his best friend, Ricky Slade, a screw-up Bobby is constantly bailing out of trouble. Ricky is the incessant motor mouth. Bobby’s the long-suffering good guy.
During the day, Bobby works construction. And at night, he’s the driver/bodyguard for his girlfriend Jesse (Famke Janssen), a savvy go-go dancer whose bumping and grinding at bachelor parties sends Bobby into a rage.
He shares an apartment with Jesse and her five-year-old daughter Chloe (Makenzie Vega). A scene-stealer, Chloe quietly matches wits with Ricky and clearly steals Bobby’s heart. Think Little Miss Marker, but with an edge.
The family dynamic is captured in one quick scene. When Jesse offers Chloe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner, Bobby counters by whipping up a plate of pasta.
“Pasta puttanesca,” he says. “Bad girls’ pasta.”
Bobby knows Jesse’s true nature and what she does. He just doesn’t want to admit it.
When the guest of honor (Jonathan Silverman) at a bachelor party begins to fondle her, Bobby’s had enough.
“No touching,” he screams before throwing a right hook that knocks out the bachelor’s front teeth. This, of course, is bad for business.
But it sets the plot in motion.
The bachelor party business is one of several enterprises run by Max, a wizened old Jewish gangster played to perfection by Peter Falk. Falk has just a handful of scenes, all sitting behind a desk in his office, and he makes the most of them.
The only sport worth betting on, he tells Bobby, is jai alai.
“Know why I like it?” he asks. “Fixed. It’s a sure thing. It’s the only way to bet.”
And while he’s upset with Bobby for punching out the bachelor (“Maybe the last time, with the PRs, but these are nice Jewish boys,” he says), Max acknowledges that he has to share some of the blame.
“It’s my fault,” he says. “I send you to watch scum drool over the love of your life.”
To make good on the money that Max had to shell out to repair the bachelor’s teeth—and to earn enough cash to buy Jesse out of the go-go business—Bobby agrees to go to New York for Max and help with a financial transaction. Ricky talks his way into the deal.
With that, the action shifts to Manhattan and the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Bobby and Ricky embark on a convoluted trip through the city as Ruiz (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs) set up the financial drop and Jimmy (Vinny Pastore) chauffeurs the would-be wiseguys all over the city.
The itinerary includes stops at the Soho Grand Hotel, Spa, Luna and Tavern on the Green. Ricky throws around cash the way he thinks a real gangster might and nearly ends up in a bathtub with Jennifer Esposito.
Along the way, Bobby and Ricky fight, drink, argue and fight some more.
Their faces are scarred and bruised by the time the financial drop takes place in a seedy bar in Red Hook. Bobby gets a knife put to his throat. Ricky comes to the rescue, but he’s brandishing a starter pistol. In the end, Jimmy saves the day, but you’re never quite sure if the deal was for real or simply a scam set up by Max to test Bobby’s mettle.
Bobby earns Max’s respect. But then, in a move that nearly leaves Ricky speechless, he turns down an offer to work fulltime for Max. He gives Max a wad of cash that was to be his first payment and, in short order, gives up Jesse as well.
“I never promised you anything, okay,” she tells Bobby after he returns to their Hollywood apartment, finds Chloe sitting in front of a television and Jesse snorting coke with a customer in their bedroom.
“I don’t think they were expecting me,” Bobby says to Ricky as he exits the apartment with Chloe.
HIT: Vinny Pastore doesn’t say much as Jimmy the limo driver, but he brings just the right mix of menace and cynicism. Jimmy’s a genuine New York wiseguy.
MISS: P. Diddy, on the other hand, mails it in.
WHAT THEY WROTE AT THE TIME: “One mug is an uptight worrywart, the other a recklessly loose cannon and the seriocomic account of their misadventures plays like ‘Mean Streets Lite.’“—Joe Leydon, Variety
DON’T FAIL TO NOTICE: The vanity license plate on the limousine that Vinny Pastore drives reads “DBLDN11.” This is a reference to a blackjack strategy discussed in Swingers—always double down on 11.
GOOF: A cut on Ricky’s forehead, the result of one of his fights with Bobby, shifts from the center of his forehead to the side and then back again during the final scenes.
CASTING CALL: There are four Sopranos connections. Favreau made a guest appearance as himself on the popular HBO show shortly before he began filming Made. He cast Vinny Pastore, (a.k.a. “Big Pussy”) as the limo driver. Drea de Matteo (Adriana on The Sopranos) plays a party girl encouraged by her friend Jennifer Esposito to have sex with Ricky. And Federico Castelluccio portrays the doorman who turns Ricky and Bobby away from a hot downtown club. Castelluccio played “Furio”—the mob enforcer imported from Naples by Tony Soprano. Furio, you may recall, nearly had a thing with Carmela, Tony Soprano’s wife.
“I KNOW THAT GUY”: The waiter who sides with P. Diddy in an argument with Ricky over whether Strega is an aperitif or a digestive is Leonardo Cimino, a veteran character actor with credits in dozens of mob movies. He played nearly the same role in The Freshman, serving Marlon Brando espresso in his Mulberry Street social club. By the way, Ricky was right. It is a digestive. You drink the witch after dinner.
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[Reprinted from The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies by George Anastasia and Glen Macnow. Available from Running Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.]
George Anastasia is a crime reporter for the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and author of several books, including “Blood and Honor” which Jimmy Breslin called “the best gangster book ever written.”
Glen Macnow was a writer for the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and “Detroit Free Press.” He is currently a talk-radio host on 610-WIP in Philadelphia.
George and Glen have co-authored “The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies.”