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Pair of Clubs 

Not long before there was Good Will Hunting, there was Swingers. Not long before Matt and Ben, there were Jon and Vince. Things in common, things somewhat different. Nobodies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck sat down to write a flick in which they could star. Good Will Hunting begat an acting Oscar for Robin Williams and a writing Oscar for its youthful authors/stars. Fame begat for Damon leading roles in Rounders, The Talented Mr. Ripley and All the Pretty Horses. Fame begat for Affleck Shakespeare in Love, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reindeer Games, Pearl Harbor and a rehab clinic. Oh well. You can't go down unless you go up.

Jon and Vince know that. Just a year before Good Will Hunting, Jon Favreau wrote Swingers so he and buddy Vince Vaughn could have a flick to star in. Swingers begat for Favreau not fame but roles in Love and Sex and The Replacements. Hmmm. Swingers begat for Vaughn not fame but retread work in Psycho, then The Cell, then ... never mind. So let's start over. Favreau has written another low-budget flick for him and buddy Vaughn to star in. Made. If it works, maybe Vaughn can land a gig in rehab.

Also directed by Favreau, Made is the story of two Los Angeles palookas looking for a life as they stare age 30 in the face. Favreau's Bobby and Vaughn's Ricky are construction workers a lot better at screwing up than getting ahead. Bobby lays brick; Ricky sweeps and takes breaks. Ricky's never met an opportunity he couldn't miss with the certainty of a Little Leaguer whiffing on a Nolan Ryan fastball. Bobby dreams of a boxing career, but he can't even beat Ricky when the two have fixed the fight. Bobby isn't the swiftest hound in the rabbit hunt, but he's a Nobel laureate compared to Ricky. Bobby at least has decent work habits and earns extra cash as a driver for a mobbed-up, private-party lap dancer named Jessica (Famke Janssen). With this spotted pedigree, Bobby and Ricky land an assignment as muscle for a low-level godfather named Max (Peter Falk). All they have to do is remain sober and take simple directions. They're in over their heads, of course.

At its best, Made is a Dumb and Dumber without the bathroom jokes. Almost uncontrollably impulsive, Ricky can't sit still while Max gives the buddies a first set of instructions. Handed an envelope, he immediately begins to rip it open even as Max directs that the envelopes not be opened until later. Few will resist laughing as Ricky tries to tape his envelope back closed. Clueless even to his own stupidity, Ricky practically demands the chance to display his ignorance.

In a crucial respect, then, Made reminded me of that classic female buddy picture Thelma and Louise, with Favreau playing the Susan Sarandon role and Vaughn the ditzy Geena Davis part. Like Sarandon's Louise, Bobby is measured and natively responsible. And like Davis' Thelma, Ricky never met a hoe he didn't think worth stepping on. As a result, both flicks work better in the early going. For after awhile in both, the viewer finds himself more often aggravated than amused by a character with the learning potential of a kumquat. Ricky always insists on having his way despite always choosing the wrong path.

Why Bobby tolerates Ricky proves increasingly problematic, and after a time we begin to lose patience with Bobby as well. In fact, save for a repeated announcement that Bobby and Ricky grew up together, we never get a satisfactory explanation for why they have remained friends. Bobby lacks much in the way of talent, but he at least possesses a properly modest ambition. Ricky harbors only grandiose dreams that ensure him and Bobby nothing but grief. And unlike Thelma, Ricky lacks much in the way of goofy charm. Neither is Ricky a good-hearted galoot who doesn't know his own strength like Lenny in Of Mice and Men. George wins our heart for looking out for Lenny, while Bobby reaps our increasing contempt for putting up with Ricky.

Happily, Favreau's script doesn't take us quite where we might predict. But his plot twists are not entirely faithful to his character construction. Many, like me, will grow weary of Bobby and Ricky's incessant brawling. We're supposed to laugh when the characters march through scene after scene with blackened eyes and swollen noses, but the joke grows lukewarm faster than an outdoor beer in a New Orleans August. There's lots of potential in Bobby's relationship with Jessica, but most of it is squandered. And a concluding development with Jessica's 7-year-old daughter Chloe (Makenzie Vega) is pretty shamefully manipulative.

In short, you won't want to drive nails into your skull if you catch this flick, but you can probably find something better to do.

click to enlarge Dumb and dumber: Bobby (Jon Favreau, right) gets tired of his friend Ricky's (Vince Vaughn) antics in Favreau's Made.
  • Dumb and dumber: Bobby (Jon Favreau, right) gets tired of his friend Ricky's (Vince Vaughn) antics in Favreau's Made.
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