'Swingers' Duo Play Wannabe Wiseguys in 'Made'
By Patrick Reed

'Swingers' duo (Vaughn and Favreau) reunite with P. Diddy to get 'Made.'

One of the most memorable episodes from The Sopranos during its second season in 2000 concerned the screenwriting aspirations of up-and-coming Mafia protégé Christopher and featured a guest appearance from actor Jon Favreau. The beefy, curly-haired Favreau played himself, basically: a semi-famous, ambitious young Hollywood player attracted to the hustling swagger, verbal crudities and fraternal loyalties that make up the mob lifestyle according to our popular culture. Tagging along with Christopher after meeting at a New Jersey movie shoot, Favreau endlessly needled the young punk about "the life," regurgitating Godfather and Goodfellas-style stereotypes as he tried to impress, only to finally back away when he came face to face with a jolt of the Soprano crew's decidedly unglamorous and very real violence. Favreau must have used that guest spot as inspiration; as writer, director and co-star of Made, he has extended the arc of his brief Sopranos cameo into an occasionally humorous, though eventually tiresome, full-length debunking of gangster-film mythology.

A familiar supporting actor in mediocre-to-bad pictures such as Very Bad Things (1998) and The Replacements (2000) and on television (a semi-recurring role on Friends in the mid-nineties), Favreau is still best known for Swingers (1996), which he wrote and starred in. Set in and around the swing lounges, hotel diners and apartment complexes of faded-glory Hollywood, Swingers starred Favreau, his pal Vince Vaughn, and a handful of others as struggling actors infatuated with retro chic and the in-crowd party circuit. Backed by Miramax, Swingers was a surprise success in '96, in part fueling a brief swing craze that revived the career of Brian Setzer and landed the Squirrel Nut Zippers on MTV before fizzling out around 1998, just as the Chairman himself passed away. Favreau's screenplay for Swingers owed much of its charm to its offhand, but seemingly authentic characterization: these close-knit, tightly-wound aspiring thespians were barely hanging on financially, but naively regarded themselves as modern-day Rat Packers just waiting for their big break.

Made's thematic heart is similar to that of Swingers, substituting the underworld of blue-collar organized crime for L.A.'s cutthroat acting community but otherwise following the same star-struck premise. Favreau's Bobby is a hapless, depressed boxer who also works as both a construction laborer and a driver/bodyguard for a strung-out, single-mom stripper (Famke Janssen) whom he is also dating. After wreaking havoc with his fists at an on-the-job bachelor party, Bobby is summoned by his mob benefactor Max (Peter Falk) and re-assigned. Max arranges for Bobby to fly to New York City and assist on a money-laundering deal, a step up on the mob ladder, and the gig seems easy enough - all Bobby has to do is provide muscle. To Max's dismay, however, Bobby insists on bringing his best friend Ricky (Vaughn) along for the job. Ricky is a habitual screw-up, full of moronic bravado and delusions of high-rolling, Fredo Corleone-in-Vegas-style grandeur (sounds a bit like Vaughn's motor-mouth character in Swingers, doesn't it?). This wiseguy wannabe has already fallen out of favor with Max, but Bobby convinces the aging crime boss to give his flunky friend one more chance. Armed with a handsome per diem advance, first-class airfare, and elementary-level instructions - but no guns - Bobby and Ricky set off cross-country to prove their mettle.

Once in New York, the two neophytes are escorted to their hotel in a limo by the mysterious Jimmy (Vincent Pastore, a.k.a The Sopranos' Big Pussy), who has been assigned to drive them during their stay. Soon they meet Max's connection in Manhattan, a local bigshot named Ruiz (Sean "Puff Daddy" - or "P. Diddy" - whatever - Combs) and learn more about the particulars of the cash transfer while getting a tantalizing taste of the VIP room (look for more Sopranos cast members in the nightclub scenes). Once the scope of the laundering deal has been revealed, Made grinds to a halt; much of the remainder of the picture consists of little more than people yelling and cursing at each other as Ricky's overzealousness threatens to kill the deal. Favreau succumbs here to the same problem that plagued Swingers: After establishing interesting characters and scenarios, there's minimal follow-through - everything quickly becomes repetitive. The level of suspense involving the resolution of Bobby and Ricky's assignment is dead on arrival; you figure they're going to botch the money drop, and they do, somewhat. The film's coda, set back in L.A., trades Bobby's mob aspirations for domesticity and feels perfunctory, a feel-good conclusion to a story long since unraveled. Despite the plot dissolution, Made is still worth a look for fans of both Swingers and The Sopranos, although Favreau's lightly comic approach definitely avoids that series' willingness to explore the violent, disturbing core of the criminal condition.