PopMatters Film and TV Editor
So here’s where I had my strangest moment of recognition and not-quite-believing-what-I-was-seeing while watching Made: Bobby (Jon Favreau, who also wrote, directed, and produced the film) is body-guarding his girlfriend, a stripper named Jessica (Famke Janssen) at some frat-boy-style bachelor party. She’s a good dancer, and more or less confident, though she knows that Bobby tends to fly off the handle and not quite understand her job as a job. In a word, he gets jealous. So Jessica tries to keep a lid on her activity and her customers’ reactions to it, performing for the increasingly rambunctious crowd with a wary eye cast in the direction of the bar, where Bobby’s hanging out with the bartender. The inevitable happens, of course: Jessica’s grabbed by one of the guys and Bobby dives in. But not before I catch a glimpse of the party guests, including Tom Morello (super-inventive guitarist for the band that used to be Rage Against the Machine) and Jonathan Silverman (super-nerdy boy of Weekend at Bernie’s and The Single Guy).
I know, it’s a small thing. But think about it: how odd is it to see these two guys at the same bachelor party? Or okay, maybe more to the point, how odd is it to see these two guys playing characters in the same movie scene, outside of whatever places they usually occupy, and behaving so badly, to boot? I felt like I had been zapped out of the movie proper and into another dimension. It made me recheck myself. A similar feeling of surprise and need for reassessment is pretty much the constant condition for Bobby, throughout Made. He works so hard to make sense of the nonsense (usually violent and cruel nonsense) that surrounds him, that you start to feel compassionate toward him, almost in spite of yourself.
The above scene comes early in the proceedings, however, and sets the minor plot crisis that will send Bobby, an aspiring but very small-time boxer, on a quest in search of self-respect, self-knowledge, and, with a little luck, a down payment on a house for him, Jessica, and Jessica’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter Chloe. Specifically, this journey involves picking up a package for the legendary gangster who is Jessica’s employer, one Max (Peter Falk) and delivering money to a legendary gangster in New York City, one Ruiz (Sean Combs, whose Sean John clothing line is advertised on the Made website—the collabos get curiouser and curiouser).
To aid him on his travels, Bobby takes Ricky, his childhood friend, boxing partner (they’re introduced fighting each other in some cheap venue, for piddling money), and notorious fuck-up. Ricky is played by the affable (when not bar-brawling) Vince Vaughn, who also produced Made, and who, in 1996, starred with Favreau in Swingers, the film that made them both bankable properties. To an extent, Made is designed as a follow-up to Swingers, in that Bobby and Ricky duplicate some of the “chemistry” Favreau and Vaughn shared in the first film (and reportedly share off screen). Superbly and energetically shot by Chris Doyle (Wong Kar-wai’s cinematographer), the film creates an external parallel for Bobby’s internal exploration: the New York scenes especially convey the guys’ fish-out-of-water experience, as well as their determination to come off as cynical, self-assured tough guys.
Max sends them from LA to NYC in style: they fly first class, have a mob-world-experienced limo driver, Horrace (Faizon Love), a wad of cash to use wisely, and a fancy-schmancy hotel room where a couple of cheeseburgers cost $48. All they need to do is remain absolutely sober and available for the few days they’re in town, ready to do Max’s bidding at a moment’s notice—and they’ve been given guns and a couple of state-of-the-art pagers (complete with extra batteries) to make sure they are.
Well, big surprise, things go wrong. Mostly, they go wrong because Ricky can’t keep his mouth shut, while Bobby looks on in barely disguised horror. They get on the plane and Bobby crudely comes on to the flight attendant (Jennifer Bransford), who is seasoned enough to handle him, proficiently; they get inside the hotel room and Ricky abuses and undertips the bellhop (Sam Rockwell); they meet Ruiz at a restaurant and Ricky says all the wrong shit, offending Horrace and angering Ruiz. This episode sets up Puffy’s big moment, his first dramatic performance in a fiction feature film. Actually, he handles it well—he’s smooth but impatient, slightly vacant and distracted. Granted, he comes with enough baggage that really, all he has to do is look vaguely menacing, and his recent reputation does the rest. And Vaughn does well as gadfly: Ricky’s perpetual antagonisms are enough to set everyone’s teeth on edge, so Ruiz’s response to his request for a gun—“The last person I want with a gun is you”—is strangely sympathetic, endowing the gangster with a touch of comic understatement, as well as real-life resonance for our boy P-Diddy.
Trying to maintain some control of the situation, Ruiz starts ordering Bobby and Ricky around, telling them to wait, to show up, to wait, to show up. Finally, they’re set to meet him at a nightclub, where they find they are not “on the list,” and while Ricky makes a scene at the entrance, the doorman lets in Screech—yes, Saved By the Bell‘s Screech, more or less grown up and sporting a gorgeous girl on his arm. Ricky, don’t you know it, just about blows a gasket at this affront. Through all this commotion, Bobby looks more appalled by the minute. But he’s hardly blameless. He and Ricky have a particular rhythm, based in beating each other down. Whenever something goes off, they’re at each other’s throats, or more accurately, wrestling, pounding, kicking, and generally falling all over one another. Their fighting is so awkward and so pathetic that you can’t help but wonder at their blustery ferocity. But you know also—because of a couple of scenes back in LA—that they are friends for a reason (something to do with an early run-in with the law, for which Ricky took the fall, demonstrating his stand-up-guyness and making Bobby eternally grateful) and they are friends forever. The fact that in each scene they appear increasingly more bloodied and bruised only makes them look rougher and more menacing to the thugs they’re dealing with, who have no idea that they’re inflicting these emblems of intimacy and affection on one another.
At last, Ruiz hooks them up with an Irish gangster know around town as “The Welshman” (The District‘s David Patrick O’Hara). Looking to do some boy-bonding, Bobby, Ricky, Horrace, and the Welshman go out on an all-night bar-hopping bender, presumably bonding (and no doubt competing) before they’re going to cut their big fat deal the next day. It’s a ridiculous exercise, particularly as Ricky works so hard to become the tough guy he thinks he needs to be, and Bobby loosens up to a point, under the influence of booze and “blow,” the scoring of which leads to a comic entanglement of all four guy-guys in a bathroom stall—the film just keeps upping the ante of attempted intimacy among men.
Such intimacy comes at a cost, particularly for Jessica: skillfully but thinly sketched, she’s the bad partner (and bad mom) that makes the boys’ relationship, as dysfunctional as it is, look like a viable alternative. But you might imagine a movie built around her travails, delving into what makes her such a rowdy and miserable character, travails about which Bobby has no idea. He combined good intentions and cluelessness make him want things he can’t possibly have, and imagine things that can’t possibly be, but he does, in the end, figure out what’s most important to him. And for that, his journey—comic, goofy, hard—seems worthwhile.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/made/