Total Recall

Vince Vaughn's 10 Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the newly announced True Detective star.

by | July 26, 2012 | Comments

Vince Vaughn
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, turning in memorable cameoes in films as diverse as Into the Wild, and Anchorman, and sharing screens with everyone from Richard Attenborough to Jennifer Lopez in the process. When HBO’s hit drama True Detective returns next year, Vaughn will take his place as one of the new season’s lead actors, and to celebrate, we decided to revisit his best-reviewed films, Total Recall style!


10. A Cool, Dry Place

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.”


9. Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Take The War of the Roses, inject it with some loud, glossy, big-budget action, add a dash of potent sexy chemistry between your stars, and you’ve got 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith — as well as a pretty fantastic formula for a blockbuster summer flick. Smith could easily have been overshadowed by all the tabloid speculation that dogged Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s relationship; this is, after all, the movie that gave the world Brangelina. But if filmgoers came for glimpses of real-life sparks, they stayed for the snappy one-liners in Simon Kinberg’s script, director Doug Liman’s well-staged (albeit thoroughly ludicrous) action set pieces, a terrific supporting cast that included Vince Vaughn, Kerry Washington, Angela Bassett, and character actor extraordinaire Keith David, as well as the sheer spectacle of two very attractive people dispatching bad guys and blowing stuff up while they decide whether they want to stay married or kill each other. It certainly isn’t high art, but the movie has a fizzy charm that Roger Ebert summed up by writing, “What makes the movie work is that Pitt and Jolie have fun together on the screen, and they’re able to find a rhythm that allows them to be understated and amused even during the most alarming developments.”


8. Old School

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 roles in Anchorman and Starsky & 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.”


7. Clay Pigeons

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.”


6. Starsky & Hutch

The overlap on the Venn diagram between Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers, 2004’s Starsky & Hutch stars Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as the titular detectives — and Vaughn as Reese Feldman, the bar mitzvah-throwing drug kingpin who’s responsible for pushing a new, untraceable form of cocaine. While a number of critics were turned off by the way the movie enthusiastically embraced its cheesy television roots, for most, it was too goofily good-natured to resist — right down to Snoop Dogg’s appearance as the streetwise police informant known as Huggy Bear. It is, wrote Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, “A really good not-great movie, the kind that would be classified as a guilty pleasure were it not executed with guilt-free honesty and good nature.”


5. Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story

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. Enter 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.”


4. Return to Paradise

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 were compared unfavorably 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.”


3. Made

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’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.”


2. Wedding Crashers

Part of the R-rated comedy renaissance of the aughts, 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 played squarely to Vaughn’s comedic gifts, 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.”


1. Swingers

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.”

In case you were wondering, here are Vaughn’s top 10 movies according to RT users’ scores:

1. Swingers — 89%
2. Old School — 86%
3. Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story — 76%
4. Return to Paradise — 76%
5. Wedding Crashers — 70%
6. Made — 68%
7. Clay Pigeons — 67%
8. A Cool, Dry Place — 61%
9. Mr. and Mrs. Smith — 58%
10. The Cell — 57%

Take a look through Vaughn’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Watch.


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