"Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show" can't make up its mind whether to be a document of four comedians cracking jokes onstage or a documentary about the cross-country tour they're on. The movie's amiable, impulsive, intense, and scattershot, and since those are qualities associated with Vaughn himself, in the end it's a fair representation.
In September 2005 the star of "Swingers" and "Wedding Crashers" mounted a rolling stand-up revue, picking four comics he liked and inviting various other friends to hop on the tour bus. The resulting movie (its full title is "Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights - Hollywood to the Heartland") isn't so much a snapshot of modern comedy as evidence of an exhausting but rewarding road trip with the boys.
The comedians are: Ahmed Ahmed, telling sardonic tales of being Arab in post-9/11 America; John Caparulo, a runty, foul-mouthed baby redneck (from Cleveland, go figure); Bret Ernst, a self-described Guido from New Jersey with a knack for physical slapstick; and Sebastian Maniscalco, as finicky and as funny as an ethnic Seinfeld.
Their delivery is much fresher than their material, which consists of the usual observations about women in bars, airport security, working at Subway, all pitched in tones of dude mock-outrage. Director Ari Sandel chops up the routines and serves them to us piecemeal, and by the time the film gets to Chicago, we've heard most of what these guys have to offer.
We also get personal bios, visits with parents, and glimpses of backstage insecurities, a reminder that many professional comedians are usually one heckle away from suicidal despair. By the end of the film, we've come to know them as people and to hope that Maniscalco will be able to quit his waiting gig when he gets back to LA.
Vaughn comes along as host, tour-bus therapist, and drawing card - he's the reason this frat-boy revue attracts mostly young, female audiences. "Swingers" co-star Jon Favreau drops in for a skit or two, as does actor Justin Long; along for the entire trip is friend and producer Peter Billingsley, all grown up from when he was playing Ralphie in "A Christmas Story." The film's comic highlight is probably Vaughn and Billingsley's onstage re-enactment of a 1990 CBS Schoolbreak Special about steroid abuse they both appeared in.
Elsewhere, "Wild West Comedy Show" reflects the star's passions and musical interests: a stop in Bakersfield, Calif., because Vaughn's a Buck Owens fanatic (Dwight Yoakam turns up onstage), a booking at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, home of the original Grand Ole Opry. When the tour diverts to Alabama after Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, it's Vaughn who makes the comics go to a nearby campground and hand out free tickets to the dispossessed. The boys grumble all the way there and are noticeably silent on the return trip - proof that the only way to shut a comedian up is show him someone unhappier than he is.