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Knockaround Guys (October 6/02)

Knockaround Guys was ready for release two years ago, yet it's only finally seeing the light of day now. Since the movie doesn't suck, it's strange that New Line would wait so long to distribute the film. But when you consider that Vin Diesel has a supporting role, and he's certainly a lot more well known now than he was in 2000, perhaps the delay isn't such a mystery after all.

Though Diesel figures prominently in the film's marketing strategy, he's actually got a fairly small role. The real star is Barry Pepper, playing Matty - the son of a Brooklyn gangster named Benny Chains (Dennis Hopper). Though Matty's tried to gain employment in the real world, nobody will hire him because of his father. Matty convinces Benny that he's ready to become a part of the organization, and receives an audition job running a bag full of money across the country. He calls upon his good friend Johnny Marbles (Seth Green), who just happens to have his own airplane, to make the delivery. Marbles, high on coke, not surprisingly messes up the job and Matty now has to track down the missing cash. He recruits his two friends, Chris (Andrew Davoli) and Taylor (Diesel), to accompany him to the small town Marbles is pretty sure the bag is now residing in. The remainder of the film follows the four friends as they attempt to track down the money, while avoiding the folks back home and a couple of nosey local cops.

It would not be unreasonable to expect Knockaround Guys to suck, since it's been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years. But, surprisingly enough, the film's not half bad - due mostly to the work of the eclectic cast. Even if the storyline holds no appeal for you, there's surely someone among the celebrity roster that will peak your interest. John Malkovich, playing Matty's uncle, is as creepy and sinister as ever (though his Brooklyn accent is questionable at best) while Diesel proves beyond a shadow of doubt that he's a movie star. His role is limited, but he does have one really great scene in a bar where he delivers a long speech to someone he's about to pound the crap out of. That sequence was completely engrossing, which is true of several others, but the problem is they never quite add up to an entirely compelling whole.

Knockaround Guys is one of those movies that relies a lot on coincedence to propel its story forward. The whole plot is set in motion after Marbles lands in a small Montana town to gas up his airplane, and has to stash the bag when he spots a couple of cops standing in the airport. He's paranoid because he just finished doing some coke on board the plane, and the cops are suspicious because Marbles pays for a $17 purchase with a $100 bill (and insists the clerk keep the change). It's a really minor complant, but the lack of a fluid storyline prevents the film from ever becoming much more than a showcase for some really fine acting and a lot of clever dialogue. And unlike Goodfellas, which was tense right from the word go, Knockaround Guys starts out with a great sequence (featuring Matty as a kid, being asked to kill a guy), but quickly becomes more of a comedy than anything else. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but the film's rarely as compelling as it is in that opening (there are a few exceptions, like that Diesel scene).

Still, the movie's worth a look - especially for fans of Pepper. An underrated actor, Pepper's been doing some solid work for the last several years (most notably as Roger Maris in Billy Crystal's 61*), and his performance here is no exception. Pepper, along with the rest of the cast, ensures that Knockaround Guys will (at the very least) entertain most audiences - but it's doubtful it'll become anything more than a basically enjoyable time-waster.

out of

© David Nusair