Vince Vaughn gives a wonderfully nervy, over-the-top performance as Ricky, an inept wiseguy wannabe, in Jon Favreau’s “Made.” The writer-director co-stars as Bobby, Ricky’s partner in would-be crime, but he proves himself remarkably generous in playing long-suffering straight man to Vaughn’s hopelessly wrongheaded overachiever. “Made” may be a ragged, ramshackle mob comedy, but the reverse Alphonse-and-Gaston routine that Vaughn and Favreau perform at its center makes it consistently amusing and, at times, quite hilarious. Even in the age of “The Sopranos,” when expectations for this sort of thing have gotten much higher than they used to be, it comes off as fresh and engaging. (The presence of both Vincent Pastore, the late lamented Pussy, and Federico Castelluccio, the pony-tailed Furio, accentuates the comparisons to David Chase’s series.)
When the picture opens, we find Ricky and Bobby battling it out in the boxing ring, turning what should be a show bout into a real pummeling contest, but it turns out they’re best buds. Ricky, you see, may be a loudmouth and a screwup, but he once saved Bobby from a jail sentence by taking the rap himself (one of the script’s happily few descents into clumsy convention). So when aging boss Max (Peter Falk, in a wonderfully sly, understated turn) offers Bobby a chance to prove himself by undertaking a mysterious mission for him in New York, Bobby–who wants to move up in order to provide for his lap-dancing lover Jess (Famke Janseen) and her sweet young daughter Chloe (Makenzie Vega)–insists on Ricky being a part of the package. The duo’s adventures on the east coast, however, are less than entirely successful: their local contact Ruiz (Sean “Puffy” Combs, who proves to have surprising screen presence) finds them a couple of bunglers (though his own man Horrace, played with disarming charm by Faizon Love, isn’t much better), and Ricky’s incessant attempts to act the tough, in-the-know made man lead to disaster after disaster. It’s pointless to go into the convolutions of Max’s scheme, which really makes no sense whatever, and it’s best to overlook most of the back-in-California finale, which (apart from a deliciously catty conversation at the close which suggests that Bobby and Ricky have become a domestic “Odd Couple”–the gay subtext is quite strong) is overly sentimental and schmaltzy. (Indeed, the entire subplot involving Janssen and Vega should probably have been jettisoned.)
But the weaknesses in the screenplay are more than compensated for by the cast. In other hands Ricky might easily have been so thoroughly obnoxious and irritating that accompanying him for a hundred minutes would have been an impossible chore. Vaughn, however, calibrates his performance superbly, so that the character is always just at the edge of becoming intolerable; he somehow manages to insure that we retain a touch of affection for the clumsy braggart even as he recklessly plunges ahead, oblivious of the damage he’s doing. In a way, Favreau’s work is even more impressive; when Bobby smolders in exasperation at Ricky’s antics, he’s a tad reminiscent of the best reactor in the business, the incomparable Oliver Hardy, even though he doesn’t twiddle a tie. (There is one unfortunate twist in the relationship between the two characters: their arguments repeatedly end in a brief fight. The device is obviously designed to refer back to the opening boxing match, but it gets tired quickly.) When you add Falk, Combs, Love, and the delightfully deadpan Pastore to the mix, the result is a thespian feast it’s difficult to resist.
Prospective viewers should be warned that the language in “Made” is extremely strong; the “F” word is employed so frequently that it seems almost a permanent guest. If that sort of thing bothers you, you should probably avoid the picture. Otherwise, you should find the performances enough to make this shambling, energetic little movie well worth a look.