Review: Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show

During the opening titles of "Wild West Comedy Show," (IMDb listing) Vince Vaughn is interviewed on a morning zoo radio show, trying to explain the bus tour he and four comedians are about to undertake in September/October of 2005. He describes the rolling circus as a journey through the heartland of America, where regular folk don't often have the chance to catch a big-city comedy show.

The tour proceeds to open in Hollywood and spends the next week in Southern California. So much for mingling with the rubes.

"Wild West" is a documentary on Vince Vaughn's dream project: to spend a month in a bus with comedian friends who he could help with some needed exposure, while allowing him, the non-stand-up, a chance to shake hands across the country and make people laugh. It's an admirable goal, and the film resulting from that grueling schedule is a jocular, engaging, sporadically hilarious concert film that should be considered more of an infomercial for four unknown comics than an accurate document of an ambitious cross-country undertaking.

The guys - John Caparulo (think a frat version of Larry the Cable Guy), Bret Ernst (self-proclaimed guido), Ahmed Ahmed (plays up his Egyptian heritage), and Sebastian Maniscalco (a waiter turned comic) â€" are a foursome of hungry, frustrated performers each toiling away on the punishing stand-up circuit. All tied to Vaughn either through friendship or partnership, the boys are the focus of the documentary; the threads of humanity and aspiration director Ari Sandel tries to weave through the film between nuggets of jokes and road mischief.

Are these guys funny? That's a personal taste issue. The fellas are awfully in tune with their comedic skills, but the gags tend to follow more pedestrian topics such as drinking, vomiting, and porn. Perhaps this is a side-effect of playing to younger college crowds, but only Maniscalco impressed me. The man has ace timing, as well as holding the distinction of creating an uproarious bit on the apocalyptic experience of shopping at a Ross discount store. Now there's some acute observation.

There's a substantial amount of stand-up to enjoy, and even some improvisational performances with Vaughn and special guests Justin Long, Jon Favreau, Peter Billingsley (complete with a "Christmas Story" clip), Keir O'Donnell, and Dwight Yoakam. However, the real heart of the film lies with the four comics, who explain their life stories to the camera, mixed with goofy childhood photos and interviews with family members to shed a little light on their impulses and personalities away from the stage. Certainly this extends "Wild West" past a reasonable running time, but the detours do accomplish one goal rather impressively: the selling of the unfamiliar comedians.

"Wild West" is a charming picture, and to watch Team Vaughn finally hit the actual heartland (you know, all that pesky stuff east of L.A.) and deal with Mother Nature's wrath on the locals, bus pranks, iconic tourist stops (Graceland, Notre Dame), and randy female fans is where the real enthusiasm of the picture is kept. The motives behind this documentary might be less than appetizing, but the end product is a delight, enthusiastically introducing four stand-ups experiencing their first taste of a blinding spotlight and reminding the audience that Vaughn remains an ace comic mind, no matter the bitter taste "Fred Claus" left behind.

Filmfodder Grade: B+