Made in the Shade

How annoying can a low-level gangster get?

In general, people will claim that they want to be happy. Nonetheless, people go to tear-jerkers in order to feel sad, horror movies to feel afraid, suspense films to feel tension and porno films to feel their genitalia. In fact, the full range of human emotions contains some level of satisfaction, and we are more than willing to seek this satisfaction out through artificial means.

On the other hand, pretty much nobody likes being annoyed or just plain irritated. So, as a genre, the annoying film has never gotten off the ground. In fact, it's hard to think of a single film that's intentionally designed to be annoying. Even The Big Chill is supposed to be good.

Well, all that has changed with the bold invention that is Made, the most intentionally annoying film of all time that does not feature Jar Jar Binks.

It's Vince Vaughn who's largely to thank for this, because he plays Ricky, an intensely annoying character who harangues and harasses his friend Bobby (John Favreau) throughout Made's two hours. Thanks to Vaughn's truly apt performance, watching Made is roughly the equivalent of being locked in a room with a four-year-old on speed.

Ricky and Bobby are small-time hoods who decide to go big time by taking on an ill-defined job from their boss, Max (Peter Falk). Bobby needs some quick cash to help out his girlfriend, a stripper with a heart-shaped g-string of gold whose idea of good parenting is to tell her kindergarten-age daughter to go in the other room while mommy does some blow with the nice john.

Trying to get her out of the crack-whore business, Bobby heads to New York with his incredibly annoying and unreliably violent pal. They arrive there with $1,500 in spending money and no idea what they're doing. There, they meet up with Ruiz (P. Diddy, in his first acting role that doesn't involve standing before a judge), who gives them their assignment, which basically involves exchanging some mysterious contraband with a Welshman.

Unfortunately, Ricky interprets "exchange some contraband with a Welshman" as "get it on with a bunch of whores." This leads to some trouble, most of it in the form of incessant fist-fights with his pal Bobby.

Their antics don't go over well with the local gangsters, of course, and they wind up blowing the deal. Well, Ricky blows the deal by acting like a big shot and being unable to keep his mouth shut, which is basically his act throughout the film.

And, really, he does this act perfectly. He's the exact type of that guy in high school who thought he was acting cool but was, in fact, a hyperactive attention-deficit-disordered nerd-boy. The problem isn't the acting (it's uniformly excellent), nor the cinematography (entirely serviceable, though a bit over-reliant on hand-held shots), nor even the plot, which is basically a good-natured and goofy gangster story. It isn't even really the script, which contains more funny lines than Paul Hogan's face. Rather, it's the idea of making a film about a guy who bugs the hell out of you.

It's a common theme in buddy movies that one of the buddies is trouble, but over-emphasizing the way in which the bad buddy is bothersome is, in itself, entirely bothersome. Even in the Lethal Weapon movies (widely considered the sine qua non of buddy films by connoisseurs of buddy-oriented cinema) the Mel Gibson character only annoys his buddy. Here, in order to convey the unpleasantness of Vaughn's character, writer/director/star Favreau has Ricky annoy the audience.

To be fair, some people will probably have the emotional detachment to enjoy the artistry of this. My pal Harvey Cormier, noted philosopher and author of The Truth Is What Works, thought this was a marvelous film, but then Harvey Cormier is the kind of guy who'd title a book The Truth Is What Works. He also thinks American Pie was a work of sheer genius because it was so unpleasant to sit through, so, you know, the whole concept of the annoying film is pretty much targeted at him.

For those of us who, given the choice, would rather feel itchy than irritated, Made is a bit of an endurance test. Still, if you think you can take it, it does contain great performances by Vaughn and Favreau, and, as a real treat to cinema fans, a small part for Falk, who, with the death of Sammy Davis Jr., is officially America's greatest living one-eyed actor. Plus there's Famke Jannsen as Vaughn's girlfriend, and she's not only a talented performer (perhaps best known for her Academy-Award-ignored performance in X-Men), she's also, as they say in the gangster business, "pretty."

So, you decide: does the benefit of fine performances and witty dialogue make up for the feeling that you're being poked in the ribs by your drunken, caffeine-overdosed uncle who never quite made it as a Catskill comic? If so, run, do not walk, to Made.

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