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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005 10:01 pm

Comedy crasher

The funniest actor in movies today isn’t a comedian

Vince Vaughn may be the reigning king of comedy, yet he really isn’t a comedian. Normally that moniker is bestowed on an actor who began either as a standup comedian or a sketch-comedy actor. Steve Martin and, more recently, Jim Carrey are prime examples. The most fertile training ground is clearly Saturday Night Live, the show that launched John Belushi, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, and Will Ferrell, among many others. Vaughn, instead, is just an actor who probably never aspired to be a comedy star, but there isn’t a funnier actor in movies today. Wedding Crashers is now poised to become the first R-rated comedy since Beverly Hills Cop (1984) to gross more than $200 million, and that probably wouldn’t have happened without Vaughn.

A minor role in Rudy (1993) brought him into contact with Jon Favreau, who then wrote a part for Vaughn in Swingers (1996). The two proved a perfect screen duo, and Swingers presented the quintessential Vaughn role, a sexist loudmouth. Vaughn teaches Favreau the ins and outs of dating in one of the most perceptive films ever made about the male point of view. Swingers wasn’t a big box-office hit, but it led to a co-starring role in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). Despite the dramatic setting, Vaughn’s obnoxious persona was able to shine through. The next year he played psychos in two different films: Clay Pigeons and the unnecessary remake of Psycho. His role as Norman Bates may be the least obnoxious of his career. Vaughn was also in the psychodrama The Cell (2000), but this time as an FBI agent. Jennifer Lopez, proving that she can really act, stars as a profiler who literally enters the mind of a serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio). The Cell is the best drama of Vaughn’s career so far.

Vaughn returned to comedy and reteamed with Favreau in Made (2001), an offbeat crime movie that is much funnier than the multitude of idiotic comedies made for a juvenile mentality. Favreau is a failed boxer who agrees to carry out a delivery for a crime boss, and Vaughn is his motormouth buddy who nearly derails the deal. Vaughn’s performance of a moron is absolute perfection. Lately Vaughn has been more visible in the high-profile comedies Old School (2003) and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), which are good films but not really the best showcases for his skills. Vaughn’s career seems tilted toward the comedy side, but with any luck he won’t lose his dramatic roots.

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (Sept. 6): Crash and  Bin-jip.

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