I'm not saying I'm not embarrassed about it.
In 2002, when I was in eighth grade, I saw Old School at a Loews Cineplex. It was the first time I'd ever snuck into an R-rated movie, and I remember two things about the experience: 1) we gained entry by purchasing tickets to The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and 2) I left the theater with a mondo crush on Vince Vaughn.
People older than me already knew Vaughn from his breakout role as the slick, libidinous Trent in the 1996 buddy movie Swingers, and (less happily) from the string of introspective dramas and forgettable psychological thrillers that followed. But to me, his return to form in Old School was a revelation. He easily outclassed co-stars Luke Wilson and Will Ferrell, playing the douchebag with a heart of gold — the role that would eventually define him — to panty-melting perfection.
I was thirteen or fourteen at the time, so I didn't quite understand the effect that Vince Vaughn had on me, or on my panties. But I knew I wanted my grown-up dating life to be populated with men like the smooth-talking, aggressively charming, Huckleberry Hound-esque figure onscreen. I wanted to be the wide-eyed young thing getting wooed with honeyed pick-up lines and sardonic patter, the little bunny (as Vaughn's character calls his female prey in Swingers), shivering and cowering in the corner as the big funny sexy bear swoops in for the kill. And I suspect that a lot of women in the late '90s and early '00s felt the same way I did.
Ten years later, with Vaughn appearing in the upcoming Ben Stiller comedy The Watch, I reflect on my adolescent boner for him with sheepishness. I roll my eyes when I overhear dudes in polo shirts reassure each other that they are "money," and I consider myself impervious to the sorts of pickup techniques that his characters use. (When he makes balloon animals to impress a potential conquest in Wedding Crashers, I think that anyone stupid enough to fall for that deserves to spend an evening with that guy and the chlamydia he has a one-million-percent chance of having.) I think of him probably the same way you do: as a middle-aged man who looks more like a used-car salesman or an out-of-shape ex-linebacker than a Hollywood heartthrob.
But just a few years ago there were few leading men in Hollywood as money as Vince Vaughn. With his rapid-fire comic timing and the physical constitution of a redwood, he was a talented character actor in the body of a leading man, a crinkle-eyed sex symbol who could also crack a good fart joke. His films were bro-y and formulaic, but there was also a sort of dewy-eyed sweetness to them that more recent buddy comedies like The Hangover have lacked. Vaughn's characters ultimately valued friendship and solidarity over bangin' chicks, gettin' hammered, and stealing famous people's tigers. He set up a fraternity to help Luke Wilson get over a breakup; his motivations were equally supportive when he played sad sack Jon Favreau's perennial wingman in Swingers. Vaughn was like the guy you went to college with who tried to talk you into hijacking the campus security golf cart and taking it through the KFC drive-thru: he might get you arrested, and he might even get you killed, but he'd be damned if he wasn't going to take you on the ride of your life in the meantime.
But the joyride had to end at some point, and end it did sometime around the mid-to-late '00s. (If you're writing a thesis linking the onset of the mortgage crisis to the trajectory of Vince Vaughn's career, please remember to cite me in the footnotes.) The machismo-inflected humor of the Frat Pack fell out of favor, replaced by a new breed of timid sex symbols like Jason Segel and Michael Cera. After a string of critical and commercial failures, Vaughn started to retreat from the spotlight, emerging only for bloggers to write snarky posts about how much weight he'd gained since Swingers. He started a minor controversy for defending a joke about how electric cars were "gay" in 2011's The Dilemma. And last fall, he publicly endorsed libertarian candidate Ron Paul, thus solidifying his ignominious descent from douchebag with a heart of gold to mere douchebag.
And yet, part of me still misses Vince Vaughn, and thinks it's time for him to stage a comeback. Part of me wants to be swept up by the schtick and the patter and the pick-up lines, to feel like the frail little bunny cowering in the corner again. Part of me thinks the sexy douchebag with a heart of gold is exactly what we need to broach the divide between the nice guys and the assholes, between the Feminist Ryan Goslings and Daniel Toshes of the world; and part of me thinks Vaughn is the one of the few leading men left who can fill that divide. So let's get back on that golf cart and take it for another spin, Vince. However long it lasts, I know it'll be a great ride.