It is frequently said that Hollywood is running out of substantive, original ideas. With the influx of ill-conceived TV show adaptations that have flooded theaters in recent years, one could certainly make a compelling argument to support that statement. However, yesterday’s announcement that Vince Vaughn will helm a big screen version of The Rockford Files might just be a stroke of genius.
The defining factor that could contribute to this film’s success is the strength of the source material. Produced during a decade marked with cliché-ridden, by-the-numbers detective shows, The Rockford Files turned the formula upside down during its 1974-1980 run. Starring James Garner, the show revolved around a jaded, smart aleck ex-con who struggled to get by working as a private investigator in Southern California. Throughout the 60′s and 70′s, any show that featured some element of law enforcement had such routine plots that the audience knew how it would be resolved before the first commercial break. Therefore, these shows were almost completely absent of any suspense or mystery. With The Rockford Files, nothing was what it seemed. Everyone had an angle and all of Rockford’s cases had multiple layers. For a show that was fairly light in tone it could be remarkably engrossing.
In addition to its complex plots, The Rockford Files featured one of the small screen’s most charismatic and engaging protagonists. While most TV detectives were morally sound, superheroes hell-bent on making a difference, Jim Rockford’s primary concern was self-preservation. As long as he was getting his $200 a day, plus expenses, all was right. Solving the case was just icing on the cake. More interesting, given his background, was the fact that Rockford rarely resorted to physical violence when in trouble. Instead he would use of his wit, charm, and considerable street smarts. While Rockford was certainly a gifted private investigator, he had all the makings of a great criminal as well. That made him such a compelling figure.
When finding the right actor to play Jim Rockford on the big screen, the filmmakers needed someone who could skate that fine line between sly and smarmy. With his swagger and accidental charm, Vince Vaughn has spent a career doing just that. Though he is certainly not one of the more gifted comedic actors of his generation, Vince Vaughn might be the most relatable. He is the kind of guy you could picture sharing a plate of nachos with while watching football on a Sunday afternoon. That is something an actor cannot be taught. It is just a natural gift. James Garner was blessed with that same ‘everyman’ aura which is why you rooted for him as Jim Rockford. I can definitely see Vince Vaughn channeling that energy with his interpretation of the character.
In analyzing his spotty career, one can see that Vince Vaughn usually turns in his best work when he is not the leading man (i.e. Old School, Wedding Crashers). While James Garner’s Jim Rockford was undeniably the show’s driving force, he had the luxury of being supported by an array of eclectic secondary characters that not only enhanced the narrative, but provided a jolt of comedic relief . The most notable of these was Rockford’s sleazy, deceitful friend and former cellmate Angel. With his endless stream of get rich quick schemes and penchant for falling in with the wrong crowd, Angel was a fantastic foil for Rockford. The casting of supporting characters like Angel in The Rockford Files film will be absolutely critical and, if done right, could really set it apart from other entries in the genre.
While there is still much information to be learned regarding the cast and crew, all signs point to The Rockford Files film being, at the very least, moderately successful. This is because it features to two key elements, including a complex premise and charismatic leading man. Many films in history have coasted to critical and box-office success with that precious combination alone. My only hope is that the studio will realize what they have and bring in top-shelf talent, both in front of and behind the camera, to support the project. In doing that, they cannot lose.
Do you think a Rockford Files movie starring Vince Vaughn will be a winning combination?