`Knockaround Guys' doesn't deliver the goods

Movie Reviews

October 11, 2002

Knockaround Guys

Rated R; Sun score: * 1/2

What to make of Knockaround Guys, a film that can't make up its mind whether it wants to be The Godfather, a mob-ified knockoff of Fargo or a big-screen version of The Sopranos? Not much.

Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich as high-ranking Mafiosi? Vin Diesel as the Jewish muscle (complete with Star of David tattoo)? Where's Madonna as the virginal blond who makes bad guys long to reform?

Knockaround Guys is the cautionary tale of Matty Demaret (Barry Pepper), son of Mafia hoo-ha Benny Chains (Hopper, channeling The Sopranos' James Gandolfini). Even though he's never been cut out for the family business, he's found there's no place for a mobster's son in legitimate society.

Against his better judgment, dad agrees to let Matty and his pals escort a bag of money from Montana to New York. Matty's bud, Johnny Marbles (Seth Green), promptly loses the cash to a pair of teen-age stoners, leading to a semi-comic showdown in the tiny Montana burg of Wibaux, where the locals aren't taking kindly to this infusion of Brooklyn wiseguys.

Played comically, Knockaround Guys might have worked fine; there are moments here where the culture clash is a true hoot. But writer-directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien keep trying to turn things somber and meaningful.

A worse mistake is Malkovich, who plays Benny Chains' right hand, Teddy Deserve. Malkovich acts as if he's doing Shakespeare, pontificating, enunciating and generally overreaching.

All this plays out to a ridiculous end, with bodies and pathos piling high. About the only person to escape this mess with his career unscathed should be Diesel, whose brooding intensity - I'm not sure he's capable of much else, but he is fun to watch - at least fits his role as Matty's battle-scarred muscle.

- Chris Kaltenbach

Pokemon 4Ever

Rated G; Sun score: * *

Watching a Pokemon movie is like drowning in a sea of cute. Those little critters are so gosh-darn adorable, what with their spunky eyes, myriad shapes and one-word vocabularies (each seems able to utter only its name), that it seems churlish to complain about spending 75 minutes in their presence. But ...

In Pokemon 4Ever, the latest entry in the amazingly profitable Japanese export, the standard assortment of Pokemon battle bad guys of nefarious intent - usually people who want to somehow collect Pokemon, a strange attitude for a franchise dependent on millions of pre-teens bugging their parents to buy the next Pokemon collectible. All is played against an underlying message that boils down to, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!"

This time, we're introduced to an all-powerful, rare Pokemon called Celebi that has the ability to travel through time. Chased by a nasty Pokemon collector, it escapes 40 years into the future, taking with it young Sammy, its human protector.

He meets up with our constant hero, Pikachu, and its apprentice trainer, Ash. For the rest of the movie, Ash and his buds keep pulling Celebi out of harm's way, leading to a climactic battle against a maelstrom of twigs.

Let's not be too harsh. For young kids, Pokemon 4Ever may prove quite delightful, and it's certainly harmless enough. Sitting through it is just part of the price parents have to pay.

- Chris Kaltenbach

Brown Sugar

Rated PG-13; * * *

Brown Sugar is a sophisticated African-American romantic comedy - glossy, funny, touching and cute. It represents a leap forward from comedies set in "the 'hood," and excepting the sentimental charms of Barbershop, it's a welcome one.

Dre (Taye Diggs) and Sidney (Sanaa Lathan) are friends who met when hip-hop was born and fell in love with the music and each other. Dre has grown up to become a record company executive. And Sidney is editor of a new magazine and author of a book on hip-hop. As she and Dre move into committed relationships with others, something is missing in their lives.

Of course, they're supposed to end up together. But the impediments to this coupling are adorable: Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe, in those roles, make their characters flawed, multi-dimensional and funny.

Brown Sugar breaks no new ground in romantic comedy. But it finds ways to make the tried and true scenes - a hilarious break-up in a restaurant, a nearly disrupted wedding - new and funny.

- Orlando Sentinel

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