By Matt Kubacki   Published Oct 13, 2002 at 5:31 AM

"Knockaround Guys" is the newest in a line of mafia-tied movies out to give you some bada-bing for your movie buck (and, certainly, to cash in on the success of "The Sopranos"). And, though it tries to live up to the genre's benchmarks, it doesn't even come close.

Centered on a young cast, "Knockaround Guys," looks and acts like it has an overwhelming amount of inexperience, and the script doesn't help matters. The movie has some interesting ideas, but it's weakly developed.

Barry Pepper ("Saving Private Ryan," "61*") is Matty Demaret, the son of an underboss in an organized crime ring in Brooklyn. He's trying to live the straight life, yet he keeps getting brushed off from employers who don't want to be tied to the stigma they think he would bring.

Haunted by his character's inability to live as a cold-hearted mobster, yet with the desperate need for approval by his father (Dennis Hopper), Matty approaches him with a plan that will allow Matty to lead a cross-country operation to bring back a half-million dollars from a crime deal. He wants to earn his father's trust and get a piece of the business.

Matty enlists the pilot skills of a friend, Johnny Marbles (Seth Green, the "Austin Powers" series), to pick up the loot in Washington and fly it safely back to Brooklyn. On a gas stop in Montana, a drug-addled Marbles loses his cool and, with it, the bag with the money. Matty and another crime family son (Andrew Davoli) set out from New York to recoup the money, bringing with them the young muscle of Taylor (Vin Diesel, "XXX") to deal with the townsfolk and the local sheriff.

The plot starts with a good idea, organized crime family's sons want to make good, please their pops and make a name for themselves as people who can get the job done. However, what "Knockaround Guys" is sorely lacking is believability. Why would an underboss risk a job so big that it could cost his own life and bring down the family in the process on a bunch of entry-level guys? Why send a pilot with a known drug history out to do the work? From there, the plot has more holes than "The Godfather"'s Sonny Corleone at the tollbooth.

In an attempt to give the young cast a little more respectability, they are joined by acclaimed actors like Hopper and John Malkovich, the latter as Matty's uncle. However, Hopper is spotty and stilted as the underboss, giving little screen presence to a character supposedly known for ruthless power. In fact, Hopper's only redeeming quality is that he gets very little screen time. Malkovich, though, is excellent at endowing his character with personality, but it's hard to give a standout performance when you're mired in fluff.

The only other actor that gives it a credible shot is Pepper. His character has the brains and he's the leader, and it's a great choice. He shows much promise and has a command of his character. It's the scenes of him orchestrating his team and reorganizing the crime after the mess-up that are the films bright spots. Diesel gives an inconsistent performance, the best shown when he exposes that there's a heart beneath the mounds of muscle. Green, however, is disappointing and is way out of place as even a member of the operation.

Close to the climax of the movie, Diesel's Taylor relates the state of organized crime today: "It's not like the way it was thirty years ago." By the way "Knockaround Guys" looks, it was much better off back then.

"Knockaround Guys" is now playing in theaters everywhere.