At first glance, the Wednesday press release announcing the production of something called “Pursuit of the Truth” just sounds like another bad idea for a soon-to-fail reality show. An “Apprentice” or “American Idol”-style competition between documentary filmmakers! That’s almost as interesting (at least to the average TV viewer) as a show about orthodontists or paving contractors. But drill down just a little, and “Pursuit of the Truth” starts to seem a bit sad and desperate, and quite possibly a unique confluence of craziness. Yes, two of the most tarnished brands in show business – Glenn Beck and Vince Vaughn – are together at last.
OK, both guys have a certain amount of arm’s-length plausible deniability in this deal, which involves TheBlaze (sic), Beck’s media company, Vaughn’s Wild West Productions and a Los Angeles production house called Go Go Luckey Entertainment, which claims to have invented “a completely new genre of reality television” with its show “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.” (I wouldn’t know about that, but I do know this: One of the biggest pitfalls of working in entertainment journalism is all the enjoyable procrastination that comes with reading ridiculous press releases.) No one is claiming that Beck and Vaughn met over raspberry mojitos at TGI Friday’s and hashed out the details – although that's such a wonderful and torturous thing to imagine that I am not ruling it out.
As for whether the so-called documentaries imagined to come out of this program will be apocalyptic screeds about the tyranny of the Obama administration and the left-wing media elite: I dunno! What would be your guess, exactly? Joel Cheatwood, president of TheBlaze (still no space!), puts it in the most namby-pamby terms imaginable: “The documentary film, particularly those that seek the truth with no agenda, is an important art form that is struggling to survive in this media environment.” Sure, yes, I agree. But why do I have the funny feeling that the words “no agenda,” when uttered by a mouthpiece for Glenn Beck, mean something different?
As for Beck, well, what can you say? This is the guy who got cashiered by Fox News for being too much of a guano-head paranoid inflammatory nutjob. Crafting doomed reality shows with a formerly major Hollywood star looks like a major step up, even when you factor in all the ridicule from pointy-headed liberal elites. (Ahem.) The case of Vince Vaughn is a lot more complicated, but it’s tough to describe “Pursuit of the Truth” as a good sign. Through most of the late ‘90s and early 2000s Vaughn looked like a rising comic superstar with romantic leading-man potential, and as recently as 2007 he was one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, commanding a reported $20 million for a leading role. Of course, that leading role was in “Fred Claus,” which may tell you all you need to know about the last half-decade of Vaughn’s career.
From his breakout role in “Swingers” onward, Vaughn’s likable on-screen persona has seemed to fit the widespread perception that he parties pretty doggone hard in his extracurricular hours. But while he’s been surrounded by booze rumors his entire career and has had evident problems managing his weight, he’s stayed off the police blotter and out of court since a 2001 North Carolina barroom brawl and a sidewalk punch-up two years later in L.A. Anyway, if a fondness for liquor and the ladies led directly to alliances with right-wing wackos, the Republican Party’s celebrity deficit would disappear overnight.
According to numerous news accounts, Vaughn holds libertarian political views and avidly supported Ron Paul in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. None of this is a secret; he was a featured speaker at the 2011 Liberty Political Action Conference, a Paulite libertarian gathering. Those are certainly unorthodox associations in Hollywood, which is fundraising ground zero for left-liberal Democratic candidates. It’s tempting to speculate that Vaughn’s political views hardened into crazyhood as his career went precipitously south, amid whatever personal problems we wish to hypothesize.
That could be nothing beyond liberal confirmation bias, since I can find no evidence that Vaughn held different views back when he was a funny, handsome, up-and-coming star who appealed almost equally to men and women. (A rare and exceptionally lucrative combination in screen actors.) Nobody asked him about politics during his “Frat Pack” heyday, but wouldn’t it have made sense for him to be the loony-tunes contrarian, alongside liberal satirist Will Ferrell and sensitive soul Owen Wilson?
Here’s the one thing I’m sure about: Something happened to Vaughn around the middle of the last decade, and the fragile chemistry of his stardom went sour. Consider his movie roles since “Fred Claus”: “Four Christmases,” “Couples Retreat,” “The Dilemma,” “The Watch” and a Las Vegas gambling comedy called “Lay the Favorite,” which actually reaches theaters this week and is already on VOD. Dude. That’s a history of both bad-tasting ick and steadily diminishing returns.
Let’s give the guy some credit. Vaughn hardly has time for bar fights these days; he’s got two more movies in the can and numerous others in development, including a feature-film remake of “The Rockford Files” (he’s actually perfect for that!) and a truly scary-sounding project called “Male Doula.” (If you’re not a parent, go look it up.) Teaming up with Glenn Beck may be a colossally bad idea, but it also seems to fit Vaughn’s long-term strategy of using his fame and money to move behind the camera into production and development. Anyway, I can’t decide whether “Pursuit of the Truth” is any more likely to be a disaster than Vaughn’s planned reboot of “The Brady Bunch” for CBS. If Glenn Beck is involved somehow, I’m so there.