Is Vince Vaughan the new Bill Murray?
I wouldn't go that far, but he's close. In his own way.
I haven't seen Vaughan's new flick The Wedding Crashers (though I have no doubt that it will be available on bootleg DVD any day now in Cambodia), but his work in Swingers and Dodgeball and Starsky and Hutch is proof of a comedic mind that, if not equals Murray's own, at least competes in the same softball league.
Both share a certain laconic, dry humor that lends their everyday-guy persona a certain levity. But that levity is tempered by sarcasm, and cynicism, and weariness. The wisecracking Bill Murray of Stripes (which is Bill Murray in pure, crystalline form) has evolved into the slightly bitter, always cranky Murray of Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. (Understand that I'm talking about Murray's screen persona, here; in real life, for all I know, he could be as upbeat as Anthony Robbins.)
And yet, Vaughan, I think, has a darker edge. It's what motivated Gus Vant to cast him as Norman Bates in his remake of Psycho. (A film that was universally trashed by critics and audiences alike, but one that is far more interesting and adventurous than it's given credit for, simply in its' exploration of what cinema can and cannot do -- more in a future post...) It's what led to his playing a more than credible 'villian' opposite John Travolta in the otherwise frankly forgettable thriller Domestic Disturbance. There's a creepy little comedy from a few years back called Clay Pigeons in which Vaughan plays a creepy little killer, and there's a gleam in his eyes that is more than a little chilling. (Call Murray many things, but chilling isn't one of them.) In that sense, something about Vaughan reminds me of Michael Keaton, another actor with a slightly skewed comedic sense who went on to play convincing psychos. Something about their eyebrows and their eyes. Comedy is always balanced between levity and cruelty, and both Keaton and Vaughan somehow can twist the knife in either direction.
Something about his voice, too. I read an interview with him a few days back, and the interviewer mentioned how his voice is distinct, even unusual, which pleased Vaughan to no end, prompting him to relate how he did, in fact, have voice training for a few years. I think voice is underestimated in cinema, and Vaughan's voice -- gravelly, laconic, slightly uneven, deep but not deep -- has that unidentifiable something that great actors learn to wield. (Think of Jack Nicholson's voice. Or Denzel Washington's. Or Al Pacino, who did a marvellous thing -- as a young man, the strength of his voice was in its softness; as an older man, his voice, aged by alcohol and cigarettes, I'm sure, took on a graspy, gravelly edge, and Pacino, being the actor that he is, changed his performance style accordingly. Genius.)
I hope Vaughan doesn't get stuck in a comedic rut for the next few years. Don't get me wrong -- I think his turn in Dodgeball, not to mention Swingers ("You are so money") is classic, Murray-level comedy. But as he gets older, those 'goofy' parts will fade away, and I'm kind of hoping that that other Vaughan, the Vaughan from Psycho, the one with the edge, will show his face one or two more times.