When last we spotted indie icons Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau on screen together, they were knocking back fruit-flavored martinis and chasing L.A. skirt in the inventive Gen-X hit Swingers. The goofy charm of that phenomenon now gives way, sad to report, to a labored fringes-of-the-mob comedy called Made, in which the friends play guys five years older but certainly no wiser. If anything, they've regressed. Picture the dopes from Dumb and Dumber getting mixed up in organized crime -- but without benefit of Jim Carrey's rubberized pratfalls or his go-to-hell anarchism.
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Writer, director and star Favreau is the ostensible auteur of this bi-coastal farce, in which a pair of buddies -- scuffling Los Angeles construction workers who don't have a clue about gangsterdom -- suddenly find themselves wearing suits on a jet to New York, where they're supposed to do a murky piece of business for a minor L.A. mob boss (played to the comic hilt, and beyond, by veteran tough guy Peter Falk). Favreau's Bobby is the levelheaded half of the team, which isn't saying much. A part-time prizefighter with a 5-5-1 record, he's a genial but dull galoot who's fallen under the spell of a stripper (Famke Janssen) who works bachelor parties to make ends meet for herself and her daughter. Bobby's running mate, Ricky (Vaughn), is the inevitable buffoon. Imagine the boisterous shtick of Jerry Lewis and Lou Costello, raise the volume 300 percent while simultaneously cutting the quality in half, and you've got Vince Vaughn in Made.
By the time Ricky stops harassing the stewardess on the airplane, you want to weld his jaws shut. By the time he's alienated the staff and fellow guests at his New York hotel and made a fool of himself in Little Italy, you want to knock him cold. The spectacle of innocents abroad has enlivened comedy for more than a century, but in every successful case from Twain to The Out of Towners, the struggling characters have been as likable as they are misguided, so audiences can take them to heart. By contrast, Vaughn comes off as the loudmouth drunk at your cousin's wedding, obstreperous and intrusive. Hard-core fans may love him here. Everyone else will probably wonder why Favreau let him run amok through his movie on such limited comic talent.
Made's joke -- its only joke, retold dozens of times -- arises from the contrast between Ricky's unfettered bluster and the dead-serious business the actual bad guys are trying to conduct. When a slick downtown mobster called Ruiz (rapper Sean Combs, aka P. Diddy) tries to give instructions to the hicks from L.A., Ricky lets fly with a torrent of half-wit street jargon. When they're supposed to be on call and listening for the cell phone to ring, they're blowing a bundle in a discotheque and inviting girls from Queens up to their room for a party. Everyone knows they're fools -- not very interesting fools. Even their limousine driver, Jimmy, played by beefy Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos' late, lamented Big Pussy), gives them a sad, unbelieving stare: Surely he's as unhappy about the current slide of gangster movies into crude slapstick as he is bemused by the present characters' ridiculous hijinks.
Meanwhile, whenever the comic action lags (which is often), director Favreau has his unlikely heroes wade into each other, à la Curly and Moe. Still a pair of overgrown adolescents, Bobby and Ricky can't get over their old locker-room banter or playacting fisticuffs. The plot, such as it is, drags the bumbling heroes all over New York -- from Harlem at midnight to the tony Tavern on the Green at noon to a tough Irish bar in Red Hook in mid-afternoon -- but it takes them exactly nowhere. The dumbbell and the loudmouth, we feel confident, will come to no real harm, nor will they prove to be particularly amusing. The chemistry that made Favreau and Vaughn so appealing in Swingers is notably absent here -- partly because thirtysomething nitwits aren't as naturally magnetic as twentysomething nitwits. So we must look elsewhere in Made for minor entertainments. David Patrick O'Hara does a nice turn as a shady Welshman visiting Manhattan to do nefarious business, and Faizon Love is terrific as a mob factotum named Horrace -- all hip-hop attitude and humorous street pose. But Ricky and Bobby badly misfire, not least when they return from their misadventures to become -- of all things -- surrogate L.A. parents wearing party hats at a Chuck E. Cheese's. When it's all over, they make Mickey Blue Eyes look like a comic genius.