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Money Men

There is only one reason Jon Favreau's new film is called Made. Not too long ago, his old friend and co-star Vince Vaughn called him up and told him, in no uncertain terms, "You gotta write something that can get made." It was less a demand than it was a plea. Five years ago, Vaughn and Favreau had starred together in Swingers, a film soaked in martini-glass cool and decked out in zoot-suit style. Favreau wrote the movie, which made the two hot properties in a cool town. They had it made, they made good, they were made men. But somewhere between first-class airline trips and limo rides to and from four-star hotels, their baggage got a little lost.

Vaughn would go on to appear in a blockbuster in which he was so much scenery to be chewed upon (1997's Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World) and a handful of misguided, mishandled projects, including Gus Van Sant's Psycho redo. Favreau, too, had gone from pop-culture touchstone to killing time standing next to Gene Hackman's double on the set of The Replacements, a movie so disposable it was filmed on Charmin. Worse, he watched as all of his other dream projects began to collapse around him: TV pilots were made and scrapped, scripts were written and dispensed with, deals were brokered and betrayed. The fairy tale had become a cautionary tale. And so Vince called Jon and said, Write something that can get made.

And he did, and it did: Made, which opens nationally this week after celebrated limited runs in Los Angeles and New York, is only a mobster movie on the surface. One could easily take its tale--about two L.A. gangster wannabes (Favreau and Vaughn) getting their first taste of the thug life during a get-the-money-and-run trip to Manhattan--at face value, but that would miss the film's real moral. It's less a picture about living the dream than it is about surviving the nightmare that is Hollywood. Replace crime bosses (in this case, played by Peter Falk and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs) with studio execs, crime syndicates with distributors, and Made is the quintessential second film--a parable of sudden success and its inherent, inevitable disasters.

"The bottom line is you gotta write what you know, especially me," Favreau says. "I have to incorporate experiences from my life, especially if I'm gonna work with Vince, because I want to try and preserve that chemistry. So a lot of times I'll play up aspects of things we've been through together to set a tone for scenes we're in. It worked really effectively in Swingers, and in this one, I was able to capture a lot of moments that Vince and I had spent since we sorta became kinda made or entry-level mob guys in the mob of Hollywood.

"Like, in Made, when we're on the airplane for the first time in first class or in the classy hotel, those were definitely inspired by moments where we first were being wined and dined as part of the Hollywood system in the wake of Swingers. And the people we came across were sorta metaphorical for the types of charming, paternal people who turn out to have sort of ulterior motives. But you can't make the movie about Hollywood. People just aren't interested, so you transpose it to the mob genre, which is more accessible--and a genre I love, as well."

A decade ago, Favreau had a map he planned to follow as diligently and as deliberately as any man taking his family on a cross-country summer vacation. He would begin in his hometown of Queens, New York, and set out for Chicago; his destination was the Second City comedy troupe, which birthed the careers of Bill Murray, John Candy, Eugene Levy and so many others who shot to stardom on launching pads marked Saturday Night Live and SCTV. Favreau wasn't asking much--maybe a shot at the Second City touring company, then a move to the main stage after paying his dues with chump change. From there, he would move back to SNL, which would give him a shot at a TV series or a bit part in a movie. Then, he figured, he'd try making his own small movies--do his "Woody Allen experience," he likes to say, in deference to one of his role models.

But somewhere between plotting his ascension and executing his diagram, things got a bit off track--for the worse, for the better. The Second City thing stalled out early. He got on the waiting list, where burgeoning careers idle till they run out of gas. He got good TV gigs, on Seinfeld and Friends, then was hired to play D-Bob in 1993's feel-good college-football drama Rudy. Favreau, in an instant, had skipped all of those inevitable steps to failure and fame: He was 27 years old, and though he had a working-class face and a cookie-dough body, he was an actor. He would indeed spend a few years in Second City, but he could no more get the taste of celluloid out of his mouth than if he'd eaten an entire reel of film. He'd make his stinker, stupid comedy--1994's PCU, a dorm-room yucker without the yucks--but he got to Los Angeles taking nothing but shortcuts. Two years later, with his piece of jumpin' jive called Swingers, the dude was money.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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