February 9, 2008

Movie Review: Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show - 30 Days & 30 Nights, Hollywood to the Heartland

Looking for something a little different? Are you tired of romantic comedies that deliver neither, Asian remakes that lose the bit of the original, and spoofs that don't understand the concept of comedy? Do you thirst for something a little different, something other than the latest product of the Hollywood hype machine? Well, perhaps this Vince Vaughn vanity project is the film for you. Or maybe not. However you want to look at it, Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show is different from the rest of the offerings that are currently in wide, or near-wide, release. It is not a slickly produced studio backed journey, rather it is more akin to a frat boy road trip of self-discovery and laughs. It is a project whose theatrical aspirations are questionable, but whose entertainment value is plainly apparent.

The film has had very little in the way of promotion, at least that I have witnessed. This lack of promotion was probably a large contributing factor to the extraordinarily small audience on opening night (at the start of the show, I was one of three people in attendance). Not the smallest opening night "crowd" I have witnessed, that would be DOA: Dead or Alive where I was one of two. Still, this does not bode well for any long-term success. Vince will likely have to be content with better potential on the DVD circuit, where it will probably be in a very short time.

What the Wild West Comedy Show delivers and what I expected turned out to be quite different. I did not know all that much, aside from what was shown in the trailers, and what I was expecting was, more or less, a clip show of the concert tour that spotlighted the bigger jokes and guest stars. Yes, that was delivered, but it was more than that. Surprisingly, it was that "more" that made the movie simultaneously more watchable and a bit slower. I hesitate to say it transcends what is generally thought of as the comedy concert movie, but it does offer more insight than I would have expected, while not attempting to be too deep or revelatory. After all, this is about a bunch of comedians on the road, if it's not funny, what's the point?

The footage was taken back in September 2005 when the tour was going down. Vince Vaughn decided to do something inspired by his love of the traveling wild west variety shows of old. Of course, with his comedy background, it was modified to be more of a stand-up revue than a recreation of the variety show. Along the way we get to learn a little about what makes those involved tick, as well as how tough it is to put on a show like this.

It all started with Vaughn, after deciding to do this, picked four comedians currently working th clubs of Hollywood, stuck them all in a van together and head out on the road. For 30 days they put on shows, with the occasional special guest, for people around the country. Besides making thousands of people laugh, they had the opportunity to hone their skills and see what worked and what didn't, thereby improving their craft.

The four featured comedians are Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst, and Sebastian Manascalco. All four of them were very funny, although the standouts for me were Caparulo and Ahmed. Those two really stood out as being the funniest and most talented of the quartet. Don't get me wrong, the other guys were funny too, but you know what I am talking about. Given more than one, you will always gravitate to one more than the other. It's natural, and it does not necessarily mean you think less of the others. It's all about preference.

The movie contains generous doses of each of their sets offering plenty to laugh at. Ahmed's comedy was sprinkled with references to his ethnicity (Egyptian), and is just really funny. Caparulo has this vulgar kid sensibility, an innocence that makes his style work. Ernst has a frat boy charm to him as he acts out his comedy, while Manascalco is a tried and true guido who embraces what he is. All of them display a good amount of talent while also recognizing areas that need a little work. The trouble areas are magnified by doing so many shows to widely varied crowds in a short period of time. It is interesting to watch as they have to rework their bits before/after shows, and sometimes live in the middle of a set.

Besides watching the comedians work, it is interesting to watch them between stops, and particularly in the aftermath of Katrina. We get to see them personally invite evacuees to a show and how they made a few stops benefit shows to help the effort. Some of it was funny, some of it personal, but all worth seeing.

On top of the comedians, there were a few special guests that made appearances. These stars include Justin Long, Jon Favreau, and Dwight Yoakam. Not to mention one of the producers, who makes plenty of appearances in the movie, is Peter Billingsley, better known for his starring role in A Christmas Story.

Despite all that I enjoyed, this is not a perfect film. There are moments where it starts to drag, but they fortunately do not last all that long. I also would have liked more of the comedy. I suspect that there will be a bunch more footage on the DVD release.

Bottomline. If you like comedy and documentaries, this may be worth checking out. Whether or not it really deserved the big screen treatment over, say, an HBO special is debatable. Still I am not disappointed for having seen it and would watch it again. Definitely worth watching.



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