In my days at a young age, a pre-teen boy might simply aspire to a Scout merit badge. In KNOCKAROUND GUYS, 11 year-old Matty has already demonstrated to his father, Benny Chains (Dennis Hopper), that he doesn't have what it takes to join the Old Man's business. Benny is a Chicago Mafia kingpin. So, by the time the boy's a young man (now played by Barry Pepper), he's completely without direction. Matty has long accepted the fact that he hasn't got what it takes to work for and impress Dad, and he can't seem to land a legit 9 to 5. So, now what?
Then, opportunity knocks. Benny needs a handbag picked up at the Spokane airport and brought back to the Windy City. Matty begs for, and receives, the assignment. Rather than go himself, he gets his friend, Johnny Marbles (Seth Green), to fly his Beechcraft to Washington to make the connection. Marbles, who has the reputation for being a screw-up, is also a mobster's drifting kid. On his return flight, Johnny manages to lose the bag - filled with $500,000 - on a gas stop at the tiny airport that serves Wibaux, Montana. (Yes, Mabel, there really is a Wibaux - on Interstate 84 just west of the North Dakota state line.)
Matty and two other discontented pals of Mob lineage, the dapper Chris (Andrew Davoli) and tough guy Taylor (Vin Diesel), arrive to help recover the dough before Benny goes ballistic. That's when things really go into the toilet.
KNOCKAROUND GUYS is a coming-of-age story with a twist (albeit at an unusually late age for such Hollywood fairy tales). Part of the film's attraction can perhaps be traced to the viewing public's current love affair with such murderous offerings as THE SOPRANOS. Certain scenes in KNOCKAROUND GUYS are decidedly violent. And then there's the challenge of perceiving any of the main characters as likable enough to root for, much less invite home for Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps we should instead be looking for personae of interest. Taylor and Teddy are the most watchable. Vin Diesel as the former is more substantial in a supporting role than his "XXX" lead. Taylor's just a buffed-up, uneducated, street-smart brawler. But, he's intensely loyal to Matty, and has no illusions about how he's wasted his life to the present. John Malkovich is mesmerizingly venomous as the psychopathic Teddy, Benny's right-hand Good Fella. There's one delicious scene in which Teddy bemoans the fact that, whereas before a hit man could just get the job done, now one has to be concerned with everybody's feelings.
After viewing KNOCKAROUND GUYS, I was mildly surprised to realize that there was no actress in either a lead or significantly supporting role. There's no romance here. Not even any vaguely warm and touchy-feely moments. This is a hard-bitten Guy Flick for the boys on their night out.