Vegas, martinis, and the words “baby” and “money” helped launch Vince Vaughn‘s film career — and helped established him as an extraordinarily compelling cinematic scoundrel, a role he’s played repeatedly over the last decade and change. But that isn’t all Vaughn can do, as he’s proven while assembling an admirably eclectic filmography, moving from comedy to horror to action thrillers and back again, and sharing screens with everyone from Richard Attenborough to Jennifer Lopez in the process. This weekend, Vaughn reunites with his old partner Jon Favreau in Couples Retreat, and to celebrate, we decided to revisit his best-reviewed films, Total Recall style!
As always, we let the Tomatometer do the sorting for us, and although it did the easy work, tossing out the obvious rotten flicks (bye bye, The Break-Up), we still had to make a few judgment calls on roles that, though memorable, still amounted to cameos (adieu, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Into the Wild, and Anchorman). What we were finally left with was a list that we think captures the breadth of Vaughn’s filmography while limiting it to the movies that gave him a healthy amount of screentime. And with that, let’s dispense with the formalities and get down to the films, shall we? Ladies and gents, the best of Vince Vaughn!
Vaughn received second billing to Jennifer Lopez in Tarsem Singh’s directorial debut, but both of them (along with Vincent D’Onofrio) took a back seat to the incredible special effects in 2000’s The Cell — not to mention the stupendously grisly violence that alternately made critics think (Nick Davis called it “amazing, courageous, and thoroughly dark”) and run screaming for the aisles (ViewLondon’s Matthew Turner pronounced it “bad in so many ways that it’s difficult to know where to begin”). Ultimately, this tale of a child psychologist who has to enter the mind of a depraved serial killer to save the life of his latest victim wasn’t one of the year’s biggest critical winners, but it broke $100 million at the box office — and it gave Vaughn a chance to flex some dramatic muscle in an effects-heavy thriller completely devoid of dinosaurs.
Vaughn’s first major role came in Swingers, a film with a budget of $250,000. His next movie was a bit of a step up: 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park boasted a $73 million bankroll, not to mention Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair and a cast including such famous names as Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, and Lord Richard Attenborough. Of course, Lost World wasn’t greeted with quite the same critical reception enjoyed by Swingers, but on the other hand, it did make over $600 million at the box office — and it featured dozens of awesome-looking CGI dinosaurs, which makes up for any critical brickbats, or the fact that Vaughn’s character is a knuckleheaded environmentalist who’s more concerned about saving giant carnivores than his own traveling companions. Looking Closer’s Jeffrey Overstreet summed it all up succinctly when he wrote, “If you liked Jurassic Park, you’ll probably like this one a little less. What the first film did poorly, this film does worse.”
Based on Michael Grant Jaffe’s novel Dance Real Slow, 1998’s A Cool, Dry Place broke Vaughn’s string of rapscallions and ne’er-do-wells and gave him the first thoroughly sympathetic role of his career: Russell Durrell, a young lawyer struggling through single fatherhood after his wife (Monica Potter) abandons him and their five-year-old son (Bobby Moat). Despite a cast that also included Joey Lauren Adams, Place barely squeaked its way into theaters, grossing a few thousand dollars during a one-week run — and though many critics rolled their eyes at the film’s leisurely pace and heavy melodrama (Filmcritic’s Christopher Null accused the plot of “just [sitting] there like a stuffed monkey”), they were matched by scribes such as Sandra Contreras of TV Guide, who wrote, “Its heart is in the right place, but this sweet drama just doesn’t build enough true drama from its slender premise. That said, it’s not bad enough to merit the kind of stealth release its studio has imposed on it.”
After 2000’s The Cell, Vaughn was relatively quiet for a few years; although he appeared in a pair of major releases (Domestic Disturbance and Made, both released in 2001), he spent much of his time in films whose appeal was more, uh, selective (The Prime Gig, I Love Your Work). It took another testosterone-heavy ensemble comedy to remind audiences what made the Swingers star famous — and okay, so Old School ended up being stolen by Will Ferrell, but Vaughn got his share of laughs, too, and it foreshadowed his funny bit parts in Anchorman and Starsky and Hutch. A not inconsiderable number of critics dismissed Old School‘s raunchy lowbrow humor, but the majority agreed with Cinerina’s Karina Montgomery, who gasped, “I can’t believe it, but I want to see it again.”
After making a splash with Swingers, Vaughn hit the ground running, booking roles in several years’ worth of big-budget productions, including 1997’s Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, and the costly Jennifer Lopez flop The Cell. Between the tentpoles, however, Vaughn hadn’t lost his taste for the odd lower-profile project — like Clay Pigeons, a Ridley Scott-produced black comedy about a drifter (Vaughn) who uses his imagined friendship with a casual acquaintance (Joaquin Phoenix) as the impetus for a homicidal, Throw Momma from the Train-style “favor.” Playing a charming, murderous lunatic helped prep Vaughn for the starring role in Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake — and while Pigeons didn’t make much of an impression at the box office, it earned the admiration of critics like the Palo Alto Weekly’s Jeanne Aufmuth, who wrote, “This is not your classic whodunit. It’s blacker,funnier, and edgier.”
Warning: NSFW — language.
Vaughn has an admirably varied resume, having done everything from thrillers to dramas to comedies, but if forced to choose, most people would probably say he works most successfully as half of a comic duo. It stands to reason, then, that 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story — which pits Vaughn against a hilariously over-the-top Ben Stiller in a fight to the finish to be decided by bouncy rubber balls traveling at punishingly high speeds. The idea of a movie about grown men playing professional dodge ball is funny all by itself, and when you have the added benefit of a cast stuffed with funny supporting players (including Jason Bateman, Gary Cole, Stephen Root, and Rip Torn), you’re almost assured of a movie that’ll make at least two-thirds of its audience laugh — and, as it turns out, 70 percent of the world’s top critics. Of course, there were a few curmudgeons turned off by Dodgeball‘s broad humor, but most reviews echoed the sentiments of Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, who wrote, “This masterpiece of modern cinema depends upon a single truism: A guy getting hit in the nuts a hundred times in a row is funny a hundred times.”
This Joseph Ruben-directed remake of the 1989 French movie Force majeure arrived during a period when American filmmakers were apparently pretty fascinated with the travails of reckless U.S. tourists in Southeast Asian prisons — Brokedown Palace was released a year later, and both films suffered comparisons with Alan Parker’s Midnight Express. Starring Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix, and David Conrad as a trio of pot-puffing Malaysian tourists who inadvertently run afoul of the law, Paradise took a familiar plot device — innocent American awaiting death in a foreign prison — and added a new wrinkle: Vaughn and Conrad, safe on U.S. soil, are told they can save Phoenix from being hanged, but only if they return to Malaysia to do hard time. Though the script wasn’t without its fair share of contrivances, Paradise‘s thorny moral dilemma was enough to satisfy most critics, and even those who didn’t give the movie their stamp of approval tended to find positive aspects — like Luisa F. Ribeiro of Boxoffice Magazine, who wrote, “Vaughn labors mightily under the obviousness of the script, while managing to reveal a fragile but profound fear of being an aging frat boy who longs to realize a finer, better self, only to be petrified that quality isn’t within him.”
Five years after they gave each other their big break in Swingers, Vaughn and Jon Favreau reunited — this time, with Favreau behind the camera in addition to writing the script — for the mob comedy Made. Starring Vaughn and Favreau as a pair of low-level Mafia knuckleheads, Made took their funny, fast-paced banter, surrounded it with a bigger budget, and added drugs, violence, and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Predictably, critics couldn’t help but compare Made to its surprise hit predecessor — and just as predictably, these comparisons didn’t do Made any favors. Still, even if Made didn’t reach Swingers‘ lofty critical heights (and barely made back its budget), Vaughn and Favreau’s chemistry remained potent enough to impress critics like Hollywood.com’s Stacie Hougland, who wrote, “Vaughn hits the bullseye as a strident, volatile jerk who can’t keep his mouth shut. You never really like him, but you can’t wait to see what he’ll do next — his missteps and offenses are so unbelievable you wince, but you can’t look away.”
Part of the recent R-rated comedy renaissance, Wedding Crashers may not have given Vaughn the opportunity to do anything new — here, he appears as Jeremy Grey, a lech with a heart of gold who isn’t terribly dissimilar from the character he played in Swingers — but it fell squarely in Vaughn’s comedic wheelhouse, had a solid Steve Faber/Bob Fisher script, and surrounded Vaughn and his co-star, Owen Wilson, with some terrific supporting talent, including Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams, and Isla Fisher as the crazy nymphomaniac who thrills and torments Vaughn in equal measure. Though some critics had problems with Crashers‘ uneven tone — and the scads of gratuitous flesh on display in the movie’s opening montage — most found it too much fun to resist. “The likes of the sneakily subversive Wilson and Vaughn deserve better,” wrote MaryAnn Johnson of Flick Filosopher, “but this is darn close to a perfect showcase for what they can do, and how much better they do it together.”
Somehow, we doubt many of you are surprised that this list ends where it all began for Vince Vaughn — specifically, with his scene-stealing turn as the appealingly smarmy Trent Walker, best bud to Jon Favreau’s sad sack Mike Peters. Favreau may have written the script, but it was Vaughn who ended up with many of Swingers‘ best lines — and although it’s true that those lines inspired countless wannabe hipsters to pronounce various persons and objects as “so money” for years to come, that’s just an unfortunate byproduct of the movie’s immense likability, and Vaughn’s seemingly effortless cool in the role, which showcased his gifts for comedy and drama. “Four guys hang out, kid one another, get into scuffles and flash their gonadal searchlight for available women,” wrote Time’s Richard Corliss. “Yikes, haven’t there been enough variations on the multiple-buddy movie? Actually, no.”
Finally, here’s Vaughn in Fred Claus going off on Kris Kringle: