Film review of the reboot/sequel to the National Lampoon film franchise, starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate.
Director: John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein.
BenderSpink/David Dobkin Productions/New Line Cinema. (15)
Cast & credits
Producer: Chris Bender, David Dobkin.
Writer: Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley.
Camera: Barry Peterson.
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh.
Sets: Barry Robison.
Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day.
After years of repeating the same mundane holiday, Rusty Griswold (Helms) realises that his family is in a rut. In an attempt to bond with his wife and sons, he insists on driving them to Wally World; an amusement park his Dad took him to when he was younger.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) is still considered one of the most quotable, cult comedic films. With John Hughes and Harold Ramis writing and directing, and Chevy Chase starring as Clark, the film naturally had their charm and heart in the film’s light hearted silliness. Thirty plus years later and we now have Vacation; a reboot/sequel with Clark’s son Rusty, now all grown up, as our leading man. “The new vacation will stand on its own” Rusty says to his family. Oh, I really hope not.
Now I know humour is subjective, but when you are sitting in a quite full screening and you can only hear the odd quiet giggle from the group of pubescent teens, you know that this film hasn’t achieved what comedies are meant to do: make you laugh continuously. In fact I couldn’t help but think that Vacation might have benefitted from including canned laughter, at least then someone would be laughing. The jokes in Vacation are used for shock value, they are crude, unpleasant, repetitive and gross. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this type of humour, but when it is used frequently and relied heavily on, then you eventually become desensitised. That is what is wrong with this film, the jokes wear thin, quickly.
Road trip films make a good opportunity for a great comedy. The episodic format allows you to have a simple but effective narrative. You are watching people overcome hilarious, albeit often frustrating antics and obstacles one step at a time. As a consequence, you are routing for these people to be successful in completing the journey and reaching their destination. You want Steve Martin to get home for Thanksgiving in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, (1987). You want the Hoover family to get Olive to the beauty pageant finale in time in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). I could not have cared less if Rusty managed to get to Wally World or not. That is where the other problem with this film is; I was not invested in this family at all.
Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are both successful comedic actors; as seen in The Hangover (2009) and Anchorman (2004). Yet in this film, they fall in to bland, cliched characters. Helms plays the desperate Dad with good intentions with Applegate playing the once wild, but now calm housewife/mother, Debbie.
The one thing that did initially pique my interest however, was the relationship between the two brothers. It was refreshing to see the younger brother Kevin (Stebbins) actually being the alpha male of the two, and constantly abusing his older sibling James (Gisondo.) I thought this dynamic had potential to be amusing. However, it became clear that Kevin’s purpose in this film was just to have someone young act unnecessarily mean and say explicit words. Ha, that small child said ‘fuck’ a bunch of times, how funny!
Now here is the part where I shamefully admit that I did smirk and once or twice even giggle during this film. The saving grace in Vacation are the smattering of cameos featured. Chris Hemsworth as Rusty’s well endowed (in both ways) brother in law, The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus as a creepy, potentially dangerous trucker, and of course Chevy Chase reprising his role as Clark Griswold, were all little sparks of joy in this otherwise lacklustre comedy. Another highlight is the scene in which Rusty and Debbie decide to add some spice in their marriage by having sex on the Four Corners monument. This is then stopped by police officers from all four states fighting for jurisdiction. The absolute winner though, is the always great Charlie Day playing a depressed and suicidal rafting guide. No, I’m not just saying that because I love It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Unfortunately though, these moments and cameos have minimum screen time.
This is by no means the worst comedy I’ve ever seen, (The Master of Disguise (2002) still wins that) but Vacation failed massively as a funny film. Maybe I’m just starting to show my age, because the film did instead leave me nostalgic for the films of John Hughes, including the original 1983 Vacation. So that is at least something positive to come out from this film. “I’ve never even heard of the original vacation,” says the teenage James. What a depressing thought; this film may be the first time this generation is introduced to the Griswolds. So, will the new vacation stand on its own? Not likely. I miss Cousin Eddie.