Knockaround Guys is an unremarkable coming-of-age story with a gangland twist. The four sons (Vin Diesel, Seth Green, Barry Pepper, and Andrew Davoli) of Brooklyn mobsters bond together to reclaim a quarter of a million dollars lost in a small Montana town run by a crooked sheriff (Tom Noonan). The money belongs to Matt Demaret’s (Pepper) dad, Benny “Chains” Demaret (Dennis Hopper) and his underboss Teddy Deserve (John Malkovich). If they don’t get it back, it’s one of the three Rs for them – roof, revolver or river. Written and directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the same team who wrote Rounders, Knockaround Guys has a straight-to-video feel to it, although the uninspired story is rescued by some very good performances. John Malkovich chews through the screen as Teddy, the conniving Brooklyn Mafioso, and Dennis Hopper is a pleasure to watch in his cameo appearance as the big boss. Of the younger actors, Canadian Barry Pepper shows his chops as the conflicted Matty, while Vin Diesel oozes charisma, but by the film’s closing scenes you wish that these talented actors had more of a script to work with.
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I think “WALL-E” is the pinnacle of science fiction for kids but after seeing “Mars Needs Moms”… I still feel that way. It’s not really sci fi anyway; it’s more action-adventure in zero gravity, with voice work by “Robot Chicken” guys Seth Green and Dan Fogler.
The earthbound portion of the story is set in Anywhere, USA. Little Milo (voice of Seth Green) doesn’t like taking out the garbage. When his mom (Joan Cusack) gives him a firm, but effective talking to, she unwittingly becomes a Martian overlord’s first choice as the model mom for the nanny bots that raise that planet’s young’uns. When she is abducted Milo hitches a ride, determined to rescue his mom from the alien invaders.
The surburban part of “Mars Needs Moms” bored me silly but once the movie hits Mars it perks up. Milo stops being a whiny kid, the action kicks in, the female Martians look like ET’s younger sisters and the Mars background animation is spectacular, kind of “2001” by way of “Triumph of the Will” and “Brazil.” Too bad the character animation isn’t as consistent. Milo’s mom has a-not-quite-human feel about her, and there’s some fluxuation in Milo and his friend Gribble but for the most part look amazing.
“Mars Needs Moms” is standard Disney. It’s a well made piece of family entertainment—it should appeal to eight and nine year olds, but anyone younger than that might find it a bit intense—with some action and good messages for kids about family and friendship. And even though it’s probably the first Disney movie to feature a purple nurple, it doesn’t strive to be anything more or less than standard.
“Old Dogs,” the new comedy starring John Travolta and Robin Willliams as two middle aged men who discover the importance of family, clearly knows what its demographic is. With a boomer soundtrack heavy on hits from the 60s and 70s and a gaggle of incontinence jokes and prostate jokes it’s aimed directly at the crowd who can remember what they were doing when Kennedy was shot.
Williams and Travolta play Dan and Charlie, lifelong friends and business partners on the verge of their biggest deal ever. Dan is a business minded divorcee, who is “allergic to anything under four feet.” In other words no kids—doesn’t have them, doesn’t want them. Just as well, he doesn’t really need children when Charlie is around. He’s still a big kid with an ultramodern apartment full of toys and a habit of flirting with every woman he meets. Their carefully manicured lives are turned upside down when Vicki (Kelly Preston) re-enters Dan’s life. With her are her two kids, the result of a one night stand Dan had with Vicki in Miami seven years before. When Daddy Dan and Uncle Charlie take the kids for two weeks while Vicki serves a jail sentence for environmental activism (how au currant!) they learn that business doesn’t always come first.
“Old Dogs” is the broadest played comedy since “The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze.” It’s filled-to-bursting with funny faces, slapstick humor and not one, but two crotch shots. It’s mostly by-the-numbers—except for a strange “body puppet” sequence featuring the late Bernie Mac—that relies on Williams and Travolta to bring a little something extra to a script that may have been a laugh-free-zone in lesser hands. Williams wrings whatever laughs there are to be found in a spray tan catastrophe scene and Travolta finds the funny as an over medicated man at a bereavement pot luck. Also packing a few laughs are Luis Guzmán as the hungry childproofing expert and Matt Dillon as the hard line camp leader.
“Old Dogs” works best when it is going for laughs, unfortunately the slapstick is interspersed with mushy moments that seem to come out of nowhere. One moment Dan has lost all depth perception and is playing the wildest game of golf since Adam Sandler and Bob Barker threw it down on the links in “Happy Gilmour,” the next Williams is using his earnest “Patch Adams” eyes, staring at the camera, fretting that he’s not cutting it as a dad. The sudden shifts are a bit jarring, but for every sentimental scene there are four sciatica jokes, or a grand-pa gag.
“Old Dogs” is a sequel in spirit to Travolta’s “Wild Hogs.” Call it boomer porn if you like—it showcases older successful men, their beautiful younger wives and interesting lives—but at its heart it’s just an old fashioned family comedy.