casIf there’s one thing that Sean Penn should learn from Paul Greengrass’ United 93, it’s to avoid recognizable faces in his adaptation of Into the Wild. The book, by John Krakauer, is a surprisingly gripping – and even more shockingly, emotionally engaging – true story about a young man who went to live on his own in the Alaskan woods and died. It’s a strange book to choose to adapt, since so much of the good stuff happens when the kid is on his own. Penn has made a great casting choice there, though – Emile Hirsch is a fantastic young actor, and not enough of a face to turn the movie into Emile Hirsch’s Wilderness Adventure.

Sadly, Penn has cast two other very recognizable actors in small roles, at least one of whom is guaranteed to drag audiences kicking and screaming out of the film. Catherine Keener is playing a woman who picks the kid up as he hitchhikes to Alaska, and treats him as a son. More troubling, Vince Vaughn will be playing a trucker the kid meets along the way.

The problem is two-fold – Vaughn seems incapable of playing characters that don’t have his smarmy self-confidence and patter, but what’s worse is that the role is essentially a cameo. Nothing is more jarring than having a famous face turn up in a movie for just a second, especially if they carry the persona someone like Vaughn does.

Even with this questionable casting, I’m very interested in seeing what Penn does with the material. I picked up the book expecting to laugh at this retarded suburbanite who thought he could Grizzly Adams his way through life and ended up oddly touched by him and his dedication.