A film review by Craig J. Koban


2008, R, 100 mins.


A concert documentary featuring:

Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Justin Long, Dwight Yoakam, Peter Billingsley, Sebastian Maniscalco, Bret Ernst, Ahmed Ahmed, and John Caparulo.

Directed by Ari Sandel

There are two - and only two - genuinely hilarious moments in – let me flex my fingers before I type this entire title – VINCE VAUGHN’S WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW: 30 DAYS AND 30 NIGHTS – HOLLYWOOD TO THE HEARTLAND. 

The first occurs when Vaughn and his “so money, he doesn't even know itSWINGERS co-star and lifetime bro-mate, Jon Favreau, get up on a live stage with actor Justin Long (who appeared with Vaughn in the very funny DOGDEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY).  Favreau and Vaughn fondly recall what making SWINGERS was like when the two were struggling to be known.  Favreau amusingly mutters that anyone could have done Vaughn’s line readings and timid Justin Long comes in and proudly proclaims that he could.  So, Favreau and Long get pages from a scene from the 1996 film and re-enact it, with Long doing an absolutely spot-on riff of Vaughn’s rapid-fire enunciation and inflections.  His impersonation is so insidiously precise it's creepy...and funny as hell.

The second funny bit in the concert documentary also showcases Vaughn and his other long-time friend, Peter Billingsley, re-unite on stage together.  Billingsley is perhaps most famous for playing the character of Ralphie in one of my favourite Christmas films of all-time, A CHRISTMAS STORY.  Now, Billingsley is all grown up and he recalls with Vaughn the first time they met at a casting call of a lame brained and dreadfully conceived after-school-movie about high school students and steroids.  What’s giddy here is that they grab some pages of the actual script from that completely forgotten film and re-enact them, but even more side-splitting is seeing the actual footage from the TV special aired, showing the relative stiffness of the two young actors, not to mention the inordinately wretched writing.  I heartedly laughed at lot here. 

What’s ultimately disappointing, though, about this concert documentary is that, for the most part, the rest of the “comedy” in it is haphazard, crude, and generally lacking in even reasonable laughs.  Vaughn, who serves as the host of the entire affair, comes off best: he’s a loose, natural, improvisational dynamo with a microphone.  Perhaps it’s of no surprise that the other stand-up comedians are so dull, unremarkable, and scattershot with their material around him.  The intentions of this film were noble on Vaughn’s part, and I am quite sure that he was hoping in the best possible manner that this film would be a launching off pad for its series of semi-struggling comics.  Unfortunately, most of this WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW seems to be punctuated by disjointed segments of the comics’ respective stage material alongside weakly cobbled together footage of them musing (well…barely) on the nature and inspirations for their work.  Ultimately, the film – unlike great documentaries – lacks a sense of real intimacy and understanding of its subject matter. That, and the painful fact that these comedians are only mildly competent. 

The whole tour within the film was a labor of love for Vaughn.  Hot of the gigantic financial success of one of his biggest box office smashes, 2005’s THE WEDDING CRASHERS, the actor had a bold idea:  mount a comedy tour involving talent hand picked by him that would bus to 30 cities in 30 nights, with no breaks in-between, to give the cities a night of sketch and stand-up comedy.  Vaughn, of course, serves as the host of every night’s proceedings, as does his buddy Billingsley, and the pair, along with four comedians and a camera crew, went across America’s heartland.  Apparently, over 600 hours of footage was shot for the film, and as evident in this film, about 100 minutes of the most lackluster content was edited together to make this film. 

No one needs to tell you that Vaughn is a smashingly winning presence on camera and on stage, as he and many of his guest stars (which includes country singer Dwight Yoakum and one point) seriously upstage the barely known comic talent.  That footage is decent, but what really fails to illicit any audience involvement is the rather tedious and lifeless material flimsily compiled together regarding the four main comics.  It's bad when their stage acts are barely watchable at times, but this documentary’s biggest sin is that the behind the scenes content – which should have at least benefited from these men commenting of the particulars of their craft – is nearly non-existent.  Oh…one comedian does state early on, “I’m a comedian…that’s who I am and what I do.”  

Wow…enriching and captivating material. 

There is sense of laziness inherent with some of the comedians’ acts.  Consider the somewhat humorously named Ahmed Ahmed, a longstanding friend of Vaughn’s (which precludes his involvement here) that just happens to be of Egyptian ethnicity.  As he laborious points out endlessly in his act, many people think he looks like a terrorist.  His act essentially is one big regurgitated joke, commenting on his heritage.  Certainly, a comedian with his racial makeup is interesting in our post-9/11 world, not to mention that some really insightful and scathing material could be seen from this, but Ahmed’s jokes seem to woefully dwell on it, failing to break free.  Not only that, but his material at the expense of his place in the world seems heavily borrowed from other better comedians. 

Then we have Bret Ernest, my least favourite of the four, a gung ho Italian who makes great pains to comment on just how Italian he is (apparently, he is also part Native American).  His f-bomb riddled material – which focuses a lot on binge drinking, the differences between men and women, and homosexuals – is not nearly as cutting edge as he would like to think it is.  There is a brief aside where he indicates that he had a gay brother that died young, but I am not so sure his brother would have appreciated some of his material, which is laced with tedious gay stereotypes.  His mother and father sure thinks the act helps as a release from the pains of Bret's dead brother...but I dunno. 

Finally, we have the two comedians whom are the most compelling in the film; one with a future, I think, and the other just trying to get out of his go-nowhere job and develop a future.   Short in stature and pudgy John Caparulo arguably has the most talent out of the four comedians, and some of his filthy, potty-mouth rants about nothingness have a funny truth to them (one bit he has about ruminating on how people take buying dogs waaaay too seriously is giggle-inducing; “I want a cute animal, not some damn, smart thing to judge me,” he deadpans at one point).   

Less funny, but with potential, is Sebastian Maniscalco, who has an easy going stage presence and some charm, even if his material is inconsistent and meandering.  He does occupy the film’s only – albeit brief – emotional point of interest.  We find out late into the movie that he actually does not do stand-up as a full-time gig, but instead is a waiter.  One comment from him has a real stinging veracity to it: “One day your name is up in lights and the next day it’s on a name tag.”  Seeing Maniscalco tear up at the end of the one month tour – proclaiming that he does not want it to end – is touching.   

Yet, it’s moments of frank introspection like this that WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW utterly lacks.  Yes, the backstage footage we see does, at times, show these comedians for who they really are: in the most cases, isolated and insecure people.  However, you never gain an instance where you fully feel engulfed into these men’s psyches.  We have the obligatory stops on the tour with the comedians either seeing or discussing their families, but most of this is of the parents proclaiming “we knew our son had potential and would succeed” variety.  Granted, there is one section of the film that shows the comedians giving out free tickets to victims of Hurricane Katrina (they all have abandoned their homes and live in a camp ground).  What’s intriguing here is that many of the comedians, at first, seem to not really care about going to the camp to visit these impoverished people (Caparula, for example, rather shallowly states that he feels that this tour detour will interfere with his plans to "go to Best Buy”).  Then, of course, the comedians see how downtrodden these people are, and have a change of heart.  

Most of the time, this documentary seems like filler, almost akin to a wealth of deleted extras on the supplemental section of a DVD that should have been left as excised scenes.   We get a lot of standard and frivolous stuff, like the boys sleeping in their cramped quarters, some dumb practical jokes, a lot of hamming around, etc..  None of this is compelling, nor does it in any way bare relevance to the comedians’ craft.  Much like the very hollow DAVE CHAPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY (another failed stand-up concert documentary), VINCE VAUGHN'S WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW is painfully disorganized and without a real purpose; it simply never gives us a true fly-on-the-wall perspective of these men on tour.  If anything, you often feel like your watching a hastily filmed and edited home movie.  

Some movies have moments that feel ripe for a quick bathroom break.  Sans some funny bits with Vaughn and his more famous Frat Pack entourage, this whole documentary feels like an excuse for one, long bathroom break.

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