The Five Absolutely, Positively Non-Essential Vince Vaughn Performances

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The Five Absolutely, Positively Non-Essential Vince Vaughn Performances

Vince Vaughn is way more than the guy who starred in the worst season of True Detective. He’s a 6-foot-5 American original with a blue belt in jiu jitsu, a man equally at home with dinosaurs (The Lost World: Jurassic Park) and security elves (Fred Claus). There are plenty of lists out there to guide you through the best of Vaughn’s long entertainment career, but you’ve likely already seen those classics. Instead, we gather here today to celebrate the five most non-essential yet totally excellent performances in the Vaughn oeuvre. 

These roles are so money, baby, and you can bet your life that he knows it. 

Wes Mantooth in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Sure, Ron Burgundy is a legend. But you don’t reach mythical status without some stiff competition for the title. In a parallel universe, Wes Mantooth and the Evening News team rule the San Diego television scene, winning the hearts and minds of viewers with their incisive local coverage of America’s Finest City.

Instead, Mantooth is relegated to our miserable reality, where rival news squads can wander onto your turf without the threat of a serious beatdown. There’s no shame in ranking #2 in one of nation’s biggest media markets — unless #1 is rubbing your nose in it. We can practically hear the homicidal thoughts raging through Mantooth’s head in Vaughn’s seething performance. Would any jury convict him if he actually went through with a crime of journalistic passion? After all, it takes a real man to polka with a switchblade.

But what sets Mantooth apart is his humanity. (His humantoothity?) Sure, there’s a part of us that pure, straight hates Mantooth. But damn, do we respect him.

Sheep Dog on Mr. Show

Vaughn made his mark as a motormouth charmer in Swingers, playing the kind of handsome Lothario who can pick up two waitresses simultaneously. Vegas, baby, Vegas! Sure, Jon Favreau was first billed, but whose handsome mug did they put on the poster?

Miramax Films

 So it’s all the more remarkable that Vaughn turned in another performance in that same era, just as funny and just as poignant, but this time without speaking a word.

HBO

“Those Amazing Actors” was a sketch on a 1998 episode of Mr. Show, HBO’s iconic comedy series. The premise: Actors are total idiots, incapable of common sense or independent thought. (There’s a reason that people recite the phrase: “As dumb as an actor.”) It takes expert actor trainer Lane Wellesby (John Ennis) to get them to perform on cue, whether that means slathering peanut butter on thespian lips to get a kissing scene right or swatting actor behinds with a riding crop until they return to their cages. Remember, “performers aren’t like you and me,” says Wellesby. “They like to get hit. They like it.”

Vaughn delivers a convincing turn here as Sheep Dog, herding the wooly creatures as naturally as a trained border collie. Emmy voters missed the train on this performance, a harbinger of the greatness still to come. 

Raji in Be Cool

Viewers and critics alike were big fans of John Travolta’s performance in Get Shorty, a stylish Elmore Leonard adaptation co-starring Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito. Another Travolta star turn in the sequel, 2005’s Be Cool, should have been a natural. But a series of creative missteps has it sitting with a chilly 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

But don’t let those lousy reviews distract you from the fact that Vaughn takes an enormous swing here as Roger Raji Lowenthal, a music agent/pimp who talks the language of the streets. He made for such a convincing dirtbag that he was nominated for “Choice Movie Sleazebag" at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards. Jennifer Coolidge got the award for A Cinderella Story, but we’re here to set the record straight — no one was sleazier that year (or virtually any year) than Vaughn’s Raji.

“Vince Vaughn is very funny as a Jewish white guy pretending to be Black,” says Nell Minow from Common Sense Media, and who are we to argue? A lot of actors would shy away from taking on this kind of role — did we mention Raji is a homophobe as well? — but Vaughn leans into the challenge. (Yep, that’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Vaughn’s gay Samoan bodyguard.)

Call it “desperate mugging” (like ViewLondon’s Matthew Turner did), or “white-guy-trying-to-be-a-Black-guy shtick (that) worked a whole lot better in a two-minute SNL skit” (like ReelFilm’s David Nusair did), but what you cannot call this performance is “timid” or “gun-shy.” In our book, you either go big dirtbag or go home.   

An Off-brand Pokemon in Maroon 5’s “Don’t Wanna Know Video

With 78 acting credits on IMDb and counting, you’d think Vaughn has played just about every kind of role there is. But he likely filled in the last space on his acting bingo card when he appeared as a knockoff Pokémon Go character in this Maroon 5 video:

But not just any Pokémon. Vaughn’s adorable anime is exhausted and damn it, he’s tired of running. Leave it to the consummate actor to take what could have been a throwaway cameo and root it in the world of the real. “My tummy’s bad,” he confesses. “Might blow a lot of ass.”

Feel the pathos as Vaughn asks Adam Levine (playing a tongue-wagging Tokyo turtle) the question that haunts all of us: “What if we stop running?”

Ricky in Made

Here’s our argument: Ricky in Made > Trent in Swingers. Fight us.

Ricky is a fast-talking misfit and best pal to Jon Favreau’s Max, a mediocre boxer who reluctantly takes on a job for the mob. Once again, Vaughn’s 1,000-percent commitment to character is the secret sauce that makes this performance so indelible. Check out the tempestuous indignance when a bouncer lets Screech into a nightclub ahead of him. Screech, for God’s sake!

When it comes to non-essential performances, we’re into over-the-top, and like his excessive emoting in Be Cool, Vaughn doesn’t disappoint. Variety critic Joe Leydon gets it, noting, “Vaughn repeatedly crosses the line between persuasively playing an obnoxious character and coming across as nerve-gratingly self-indulgent.”

“If there is a more annoying performance than Vaughn's in a movie this year,” wrote Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, “it can only mean the real Jerry Lewis has made a comeback.”

We’re cherrypicking a bit to show the extreme reaction critics had to Ricky in Made, but rest assured, most reviewers are with us. Vaughn gives a jabbering, hyperactive, hilarious performance, and Time Out couldn’t agree more: “Vaughn's cannily judged display of virtuoso assholery is something to see.”  

Virtuoso asshole: Just another term for Vintage Vaughn.  

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