Daddy Got the Rainman Suite, and He Sh*t All Over It
Date of Assessment: January 14, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Swingers, smooth-talking, money
Negative Buzzwords: Christmas movies, stagnation, monied
The Case: If I asked moviegoers to consider today's subject, the vast majority would express the same sentiment in regard to today's subject; that is, what the hell happened to Vince Vaughn? Babies, you know what I'm talking about when I refer to Vaughn's promising performance as Trent "Double Down" Walker in Swingers. Vaughn virtually materialized out of thin air to great effect -- women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. To put it quite simply, he was money... and he still is, but Vince's definition of "money" has drastically changed over the past fifteen years. Instead of a descriptor of coolness, the term now refers to what's rattling around in Vaughn's very oversized pockets. Then again, the size of the pockets has changed as well. Nowadays and instead of his former figurative "larger than life" prowess, Vaughn's physically bloated resemblance hints at excess in many different facets of his personal and professional life.
Yeah, I'll get back to that last statement in just a bit.
The way I see it, there have been four rather distinct phases of Vince Vaughn's acting career. The first phase (other than the anomaly known as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, during which his character ominously stated "Noble was last year. This year, I get paid.") contained several attempts to break away from the infamous Trent Walker, but these projects were mostly indie flicks that didn't do terribly well at the box office (The Locusts; Clay Pigeons; A Cool, Dry Place; Return to Paradise; South of Heaven, West of Hell; The Cell; The Prime Gig; Domestic Disturbance). Vaughn also performed competently enough as Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake, but neither the movie itself nor Vaughn's take on the character were distinctive or impressive enough to necessitate the remake's very existence. At this point, Vaughn switched gears and abandoned all hope of subsisting as a critical darling; instead, he transformed himself into a more commercially successful incarnation of the wise-talker that audiences loved. Somewhere along the way, most of these subsequent roles became indistinguishable from one another, and his shtick has worn thin.
As such, Vaughn embarked upon his "Frat Packer"-phase, which contained largely mindless humor within ensemble casts (Zoolander; Old School; Starsky & Hutch; Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; Wedding Crashers). For a short amount of time after the frat-packing days, Vaughn briefly returned to his not-so-distant roots for a short period of time with a couple of amusing performances (Be Cool and Mr. & Mrs. Smith), a short yet acclaimed return to indie territory (Into the Wild), and a laudable effort to boost some of his fellow underdog comedians (Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show). Finally, Vaughn arrived within his last and current phase, in which Hollywood decided he was a leading man [The Break-Up; Fred Claus (which he actually attempted to defend); Four Christmases; Couple's Retreat]. As insufferable as all of these latter efforts have been to witness, they've also all been very successful in terms of box-office receipts. This weekend, The Dilemma shall probably continue this trend.
From the very beginning of his career, Vaughn's never been a particularly talented actor but largely rode in upon a speeding train of charisma. The very best Vaughn performances are the ones where he's either a wingman or smaller, standout player in movies based upon smart scripts that allow Vaughn to bounce off similarly-competent actors. In these roles, he oozes cool and talks fast, but his characters generally take a slightly self-effacing or self-damning turn towards the end. Of course, this list of characters includes Trent Walker (who revealed himself to be an absolute buffoon in his final "baby talk" diner scene) but also Clay Pigeons's Lester Long (a serial killer who schmoozed around town a bit too long), Mr. & Mrs. Smith's Eddie (who, upon the revelation that he lives with his mother, swiftly replies, "She happens to be a first-class lady!"), and Jeremy Grey of Wedding Crashers (who spends a great deal of the movie avoiding Isla Fisher's "stage five, virgin, clinger" but falls for her duplicitous nature in the end). Within these characters, Vince can do very little wrong.
Prognosis: It must be stated that fans of the "old" Vince Vaughn aren't necessarily disappointed in his decision to grab the money and run, so to speak. Also, let's fog out another boozy elephant in the room because this assessment cannot conclude without the obligatory mention of Vaughn's ballooning waistline. Neither of these issues would be damning enough to cause Vaughn fans to desert the guy. The problem is that Vince Vaughn is no longer funny; and although some of his lines might be considered vaguely amusing on the page, his delivery of these lines is stilted. Something has clearly gone wrong in those barely-opened eyes; he might very well be completely (yet functionally) drunk or medicated out of his mind. Most of all, Vaughn seems to have really lost his edge while, strangely, appearing completely aware and apathetic of this fact. His ability to entertain has stagnated.
One shining beacon of hope remains for those who once coveted this cool cat. Vaughn has signed on for Two Guns, an upcoming David O'Russell-helmed project. If this one displays even half of the ability to repair some self-inflicted damage to Vaughn's career as The Fighter did for Mark Wahlberg, well, that's gotta be good news. If nothing else, I welcome the chance for Vaughn to reclaim the ability to shout lines such as "I'm the asshole in this place, right? I'm the asshole? I'm outta here! I'm not eating here... I wouldn't eat here... I'd never eat here anyway!" and still come off like a total sweetheart.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.