During the opening titles of "Wild West Comedy Show," 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) - 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.
Coming from a video source, the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation of "Wild West" looks as good as it possibly could. The source material is prone to smearing and has great trouble with low-light locations, but the image is satisfying, and the colors are nicely preserved.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is terrific with audience reactions, pulling the viewer into the concert experience with strong surround response. The rest of the shenanigans are kept sonically rich with nice separation, keeping the hectic lifestyle of the tour pleasurable. A 2.0 stereo mix is also included.
English and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The first of two feature-length audio commentaries features Vince Vaughn and producer Peter Billingsley. The longtime pals basically spend the track explaining how the tour came to be, and if you hold a history with Vaughn commentaries, you already know that any chance the actor receives to expound on a thematic concept is immediately jumped upon and strangled to death.
It's an interesting enough track for fans of the film, with plenty of backstory provided for nearly everything onscreen. I especially enjoyed Vaughn chatting up the preciousness of Billingsley's "Christmas Story" history and hearing about the grueling schedule the tour had difficulty mastering early on in the process.
The second track is provided by director Ari Sandel and comedians Bret Ernst, Ahmed Ahmed, and Sebastian Maniscalco. As expected, this track is loose and shticky; a complete contrast to the Vaughn/Billingsley offering. The group also focuses on describing the atmosphere behind the footage, offering a different, more personal perspective on the picture. It goes without saying that this is the more entertaining audio guide, with the comics taking considerable time to make fun of each other and describe the hell of life on the road. Sandel tries to sneak in technical knowhow wherever he can.
"Bonus Material" (53:57) spends more time with the four comics on the road, in interviews, and on the stage. The fun moves on to Vince and his crew of cameos as they prepare to take the stage with loosely-prepared comedic ideas. Of special interest is a longer peek at the "Summer Nights" sequence from the Phoenix tour date and Vaughn explaining how the tour came to be.
"The Tour" (5:52) delves even further into the brainstorming behind the tour, showing how the business details were assembled, many at the very last possible minute.
"The Making of 'The Wild West Comedy Show'" (6:01) condenses the whole creative shebang into a brief featurette, only now the events are deconstructed with an eye toward the technical hurdles.
"Behind the Scenes" (9:47) should really be placed in the "Bonus Material" area, but this is the hand we've all been dealt. Another snapshot of life on the road, the comics are little more aggressive here, depicted in brotherly relationships where fighting and kidding are shared with equal passion. In other words, never eat John Caparulo's Subway sandwiches.
Finally, a theatrical trailer is included on the DVD.
"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.