It seems appropriate that the first scene in Made, written by Jon Favreau, is a boxing sequence. The match between the film’s lead actors is a preview of many verbal and physical spars to come, and a reminder that Favreau ? director, writer, actor and producer of the film ?just loves Martin Scorsese to death. As Bobby (Favreau) and Ricky (Vince Vaughn) brutishly pound one another, the sweat flies from their faces in what seems like a brief inhabitation of Scorsese’s Raging Bull. This is not particularly surprising, as Favreau has lovingly (and more directly ) referenced Scorsese before.
Favreau’s successful 1996 indie film Swingers (directed by Doug Liman) is as much about its mopey protagonist’s girl troubles as it is about the vast network of single folks struggling at the fringes of Hollywood, the so-called “swingers culture.” Everyone is either in, trying to get in ? “pilots” and “callbacks” are familiar terms ? or sitting around talking about show business (when they’re not out bar-hopping or getting rest for tomorrow morning’s audition…).
One scene about a third of the way into Swingers, a movie Favreau not only wrote, but also starred in and co-produced, seems a valid access point to his approach for making movies. A bunch of guys sit around, having drinks, talking about movies and, in response to someone’s regard for the slow-motion opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Favreau insistently blurts, “Tarantino completely bites everything from off Scorsese.”
They go on to praise a long, one-take Steadicam shot in Goodfellas, as another guy boasts “It took them four days to light for that shot.”
There’s a backseat fascination with filmmaking in this banter, a sense of looking from the outside in. “I don’t see what the big deal is. Everybody steals from everybody; that’s movies,” another concludes. Seconds later the film proceeds to winkingly rip off the discussed Reservoir Dogs scene. Later (and more subtly), the Goodfellas scene is re-created. Swingers just loves echoing other movies, and Made lapses into similar self- congratulatory, cinematic montages. Favreau emulates his idols as he tries on an expensive two-piece suit that he can’t quite pay for, but he enjoys looking in the mirror while he has the chance. In both films, this indulgence becomes quite literal; they each enjoy slow-motion, strutting shots (jazzy soundtrack blaring) of Favreau and Vaughn in crisp, flashy suits, so “money” they don’t even know it.
But they do know it ? they made it. The filmmakers first reveal a hands-down appreciation for moviemaking; then, they go out and do it. This is the excitement of independent film ? you don’t have to be Scorsese to get a film made, yet it would seem Favreau still wants to be him. Made doesn’t include the same degree of indie film in-joking as Swingers, although it does rely on its audience having enough pop-culture savvy to get a good Saved by the Bell reference.
Rather than being aspiring actors and showbiz types, Bobby and Ricky are aspiring boxers (because, after all, Favreau and Vaughn have now succeeded at the former). Best friends since they were children, it would seem that Bobby is the only reason his fast-talking and perpetually obnoxious pal gets anywhere. Vaughn does a good job of being almost unbearably annoying without quite crossing the line, although his misogynistic and homophobic remarks succeed at testing our patience for his ignorance. A typical scenario involves Ricky making offensive remarks while Bobby tightens his face and glares.
While Bobby and Ricky resemble their Swingers counterparts, they are different characters with a distinctly different relationship. Favreau’s role this time around is for the most part more mature ? he is not just seeking a girlfriend, but a family. The people-skills Vaughn caressed in Swingers evade him as Ricky Slate. He succeeds in bribery more often than in charm.
The moment that particularly defines Made as a different sort of film from Swingers is when Bobby enters, not a scantly furnished bachelor pad, but a home with a full refrigerator in the kitchen and wayward crayon boxes on the tabletops. Bobby’s girlfriend is a stripper, and, when she performs, he either accompanies her as an overprotective bodyguard or stays home and takes care of her five-year-old daughter Chloe. Bobby’s opportunity to” make it” comes along when mob boss Max (Peter Falk, better known as TV’s Columbo) offers him a well-paid job in New York.Â Bobby convinces him to hire Ricky as well, and the premise for the next hour is set. It would seem a fair assessment that Favreau’s knowledge of gangsterism came from the movies ? it’s all style.
Falk comes across as more of a parody than anything else ? he seems like a Mission Impossible version of the big chief. Sean “Puffy” Combs plays the local New York boss, and, although introducing the rapper in an Italian restaurant is a nice comic touch, the performance is ultimately neither good nor bad; it is just uninteresting.
Brightly colored, soundtrack-blasting montage sequences are frequent and often beautifully done, if awkwardly segued.Â The mob plot ends up being a thin Scorsese-ish frame for Favreau’s film, which would be fine if the seams were less noticeable. Some scene transitions seem to allow for a commercial break, clunky pairings of different moviemaking styles.Favreau is talented, but not yet an experienced filmmaker, and maybe he needs to just buy the damn suit already and inhabit his own clothes for a while. While some of the mobster stuff is fun, it is the familiar sparring with Vaughn that makes Made enjoyable. The brief scenes with five-year-old Chloe are welcome for their sincerity, succeeding in being sweet but not sappy. I left the film wishing there had been more development of Bobby’s relationship with Chloe ? a curious place to find myself at the end of a mobster buddy movie. Puffy is boring, Falk is funnier in theory than in practice, and both end up as rather forgettable.
One of the best moments of Made comes when Max finally loses his temper with the degenerate Ricky, screams a comically harsh reprimand full of obscenities, and promptly returns to his grandfatherly gangster calm. The camera wisely does not budge from a close-up of Bobby and Ricky’s reaction. Here it is gleefully acknowledged just why we put down our cash to see this film: to see Favreau and Vaughn squirm, not to see Columbo use the f-word.