Make a rousing, hip, and funny film, and everyone thinks you have it made. All the right people return your phone calls, and the babies love you.
But with accolade comes expectation. And then comparison. If you want to stay on top, you not only have to make another hip and happenin' film, but it has to be even a little better.
Set against that backdrop, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, whose "Swingers" surprised and delighted audiences five years ago, don't exactly have it made anymore.
That's not to say that their new movie, "Made," which was written and directed by Favreau and produced by the two of them, isn't fun, but it's likely to leave fans missing the fresh hit of "Swingers" and leave newcomers wondering what some of the fuss was about.
In "Made," Vaughn gets to take the lead this time, and he shines as Ricky, a shiftless, half-baked schemer who leeches off relationships that Favreau's stand-up guy, Bobby, has developed. The measure of Vaughn's success is how he makes the audience squirm, very much in the way Favreau did in the "Swingers" sequence in which he calls a woman he's just met at a bar, getting her machine a half- dozen times and sinking into deeper trouble with every call.
Favreau the writer gives Vaughn much the same setup in "Made." This time they're on a plane, and instead of a call, it's the call button; by the fourth time Ricky mashes it, the audience is groaning, wishing they could stop him before he calls again.
That Vaughn carries it off is a reason to see the movie. That Favreau is so shameless in returning to old devices is a reason not to. "Swingers" fans will recall the trailer scene in which one of the boys almost gets lucky; it's replayed this time in their New York hotel room.
They're in New York on orders from Max (Peter Falk), Bobby's mob godfather. For Bobby, this errand is one step deeper into the underworld; until now, he's handled the affairs of Jessica, his junkie-stripper girlfriend (Famke Janssen) who's employed by Max.
Max's sketchy description of their errand introduces a tension that Favreau and Vaughn, reprising their much-praised chemistry, feed on the rest of the way.
In "Swingers," the tie that binds its characters is friendship, but in "Made" it is family. There is the mob-style family to which the title alludes, of course, and even within that motif there's a strong link to that most famous of television families, "The Sopranos." Three members of its cast make it into "Made," most notably Vincent Pastore, who played Pussy. Here he is Jimmy the chauffeur, although it's clear immediately upon his arrival that he's going to figure in the plot as more than just a driver. This heavy- handedness is likely due to Favreau's direction (it is his debut) than to Pastore's lack of acting finesse.
Traditional family has a role in "Made," too; the fate of Jessica's daughter becomes part of the film's resolution. Leading up to that, Favreau scores on a couple of points: In the showdown scene, it's not at all clear how events will unravel, and the film does not offer an entirely happy ending, at least within Hollywood's definition. Janssen and Falk are creditable, as is Sean Combs, the rapper who makes his screen debut.
In a vacuum, would "Made" make its own way? Well, it's a reasonable effort. But in the shadow of "Swingers," that's not precisely the question.