Movie Review: 'Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show'
The first 20 minutes of this film from Ari Sandel (creator of the Oscar-winning short "East Side Story") are so dull, the comedy so boring and the backstage "revelations" so blah that any reasonably intelligent viewer can be forgiven the urge to abandon ship.
My advice is to stick with it. Little by little "VVWWCS" keeps improving until, 100 minutes later, you leave the theater basking in the warm glow of shared laughter and, quite unexpectedly, shared emotions.
Accompanying Vaughn on this marathon are stand up artists who, in Vaughn's estimation, are on the verge of stardom. They are:
Ahmed Ahmed, an Egyptian-American who turns the discomfort of being an Arab in post-9/11 America into rich comedy about prejudice and perception.
John Caparulo, an amorphous gnome who comes off like Larry the Cable Guy's slower brother, spewing profanity-thick observations and clad in baseball cap and huge T-shirt.
Bret Ernst, a fast-talking East Coast type who throws himself into enacting scenes as he describes them.
Sebastian Maniscalco, a comedy newbie who had to give up his job waiting tables to join the tour.
Director Sandel has taken each comic's material as captured in performance, chopped it up in segments and then scattered them throughout the film. We don't get to see their sets progress in real time, which is frustrating. And Sandel has (wisely, it turns out) saved all their good material for the last 30 minutes of the movie.
When they're not on stage we see the guys clowning around on the tour bus (which over the 30 days begins to take on the litter and atmosphere of a cell block after a prison riot). Initially the comics seem shallow, self-obsessed and intellectually pedestrian.
Again, that's misleading. As the tour swings through California, across the Southwest, through the Gulf States and finally up through the Industrial Midwest we start putting together a picture of who each man really is. They meet family along the way, they reveal moments of weakness and angst (a badly-received set, we're told, is enough to get a stand up contemplating the sweet release of suicide).
Some of the off-stage material is wrenching. In one Southern city the comics are upset because they're all forced to sleep in one hotel room, the city being packed with Hurricane Katrina refugees. And they're positively pouty when Vaughn wakes them early to go to a campground filled with displaced people to hand out free tickets to that night's show.
But the experience is transforming. A glimpse at the suffering of their fellow citizens sobers these guys up. They're different men on the ride back to the hotel, and that night they give the tour's only G-rated show so that entire refugee families can attend. (Was it just my imagination, or was Caparulo, the most profane of the four, actually better when denied his four-letter vocabulary?)
Ahmed takes the film crew to meet his parents, especially the father who didn't speak to him for eight years after he declared his intention to go into show business. Now the old man glows with pride.
In one superbly edited sequence, the film cuts between one of Ernst's bits about his older brother - a man who knew he was homosexual from the moment he emerged form the womb ("I'm never going back in there!") - with revelations from his mother about how her firstborn kept the family together while she worked as a single mom.
And by tour's end Maniscalco is so overcome with emotion at having realized his ambition of being a paid comic that even his colleagues - for whom sarcasm and competition are mother's milk - have to give it up and participate in a round of man hugs.
Through it all Vaughn serves as producer, den mother, shrink and cheerleader, trying to bolster his comics' spirits and assuring them that they're doing great.
You don't expect to find emotional depth in the frat-house atmosphere of comedy tour bus, but then "Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show" is full of surprises.
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