The film’s title does not refer to writers/directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien, although it certainly could; finishing their film in 1999, the duo saw its directorial debut kicked around New Line Cinema’s schedule for a couple of years.
But Knockaround Guys is the rare shelved movie that hasn’t collected layers of mold. Its first act is weak and its ambiguous final shot ludicrous. But the rest of the film, detailing a bound-to-get-bloody battle over a bag of money, works on a purely lurid level.
Barry Pepper stars as Matty Demaret, son of reputed Mob boss Benny “Chains” Demaret (Dennis Hopper). Matty only wants to be a sports agent, but his last name frightens off all potential bosses. With no other options, Matty convinces his father and Uncle Teddy (John Malkovich) to let him and his pilot pal Johnny (Seth Green) handle a cross-country delivery of $500,000.
During a stop at a small Montana airport, Johnny loses track of the money. To resolve the situation quickly, Matty and two other friends (Vin Diesel and Andrew Davoli) head west. But Matty has a money-mad sheriff and, eventually, his own irked Uncle Teddy to contend with.
You get the sense that Malkovich received no direction from Koppelman and Levien (the writers of Rounders, which also featured him). With a ridiculous New Yawk accent, Malkovich adds yet another ho-hum baddie to his resume.
But when the movie mixes the cornpone and the Cosa Nostra, it finds a nice rhythm. There is an amusing subplot involving drugged-out street luge enthusiasts. The sheriff’s presence is provided by the silken-voiced menace of Tom Noonan. And the dialogue exchanges are snappy — “The cops are involved. Dirty fuckin’ cops,” Matty says. “Yeah, you said the cops,” Teddy fires back.
On top of that is another good performance from Diesel, who this time takes a supporting role. Overall, Knockaround Guys plays like something better than a mere Quentin Tarantino knockoff.