‘Vacation’ is the Cinematic Equivalent of a Family Road Trip — Pain

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With National Lampoon’s Vacation, director Harold Ramis and company tapped into a certain segment of suburban Americana – the family road trip. Under the banner of National Lampoon, before their eventual demise into the ranks of straight-to-video hell, the 1983 Vacation survives as a comedy classic by taking a simple suburban family and driving them over the edge of reason, and driving its patriarch towards the looney bin. Sequels of varying and inferior quality would follow, and the final film in the series, Vegas Vacation, wasn’t even under the National Lampoon banner. Yes, the company behind Golf Punks was too good for Vegas Vacation. But as happens more and more these days, a reboot or remake or whatever the hell we’re calling it today was right around the corner. The writing duo behind Horrible Bosses, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, make their directorial debut with Vacation, a sort of sequel that sees Ed Helms take the patriarchal mantle as Rusty Griswold. He hopes to take his family on a road trip to Walley World, the same exact theme park from the first film. But this Vacation is a dismal affair, one that sees the series reach a new low in quality. This is a film that makes one yearn for the quality and wit of Golf Punks.

In this Vacation, Rusty Griswold (Helms) has grown up to be a pilot for Econoair. Every year, Rusty takes his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two children James (Skylar Gisondo), the elder and more artistic sibling, and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), the foul-mouthed youngster who bullies his older brother to the same old cabin in Michigan. However, Rusty has rushed the planning of the trip and the family is saddled with a Tartan Prancer, a patently ridiculous automobile that is simultaneously to remind us of the ugly station wagon from the original while providing the film with about 50% of its jokes. The film is insanely committed to the multitude of jokes that this fictional car can provide, particularly when the car’s GPS system is switched over to directions in angry Korean. The family travels across the country running to all sorts of hijinks along the way before eventually flaming out and finding themselves in San Francisco, where Rusty’s parents Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) live. There Clark reassures Rusty that the trials along the way were meaningful, and the family should go to Walley World. The film then concludes in the complete antithesis of its forbearer, an anti-climax of second-rate comedy.

There are fleeting giggles in Vacation, but most of the minor laughs the film is able to coax quickly fade upon its eventual repeating. Much in the way that the film is committed to every possible gag about the car, it’s committed to repeating and recycling gags, many of which don’t work in the first place. Of course, the film is overloaded with callbacks to its predecessors, but it gets odd where it seems to be recycling gags from other films. The raw sewage scene, which has been featured in the trailers and posters, is a gag rehashed from Naked Gun 2 ½, and the film even goes into a territory similar to the 37 scene in Clerks. But there’s no real sense of humor at play in Vacation, just a loose collection of middling gags of little to no narrative sense.

It would seem that Vacation has gone through significant cuts or they just didn’t give a shit. I honestly had no idea that Leslie Mann was playing Rusty’s sister Audrey from previous installments until her time on screen was mostly done, and her the knowledge that she had a baby was another moment of “huh”. There are a handful of spirited cameos and others that just fall flat. In brief roles, Charlie Day and Keegan-Michael Key elicit some laughs in their limited time. But the other cameos by Norman Reedus, Chris Hemsworth, Colin Hanks, Nick Kroll, and many more egregiously wastes the talent on screen. As Audrey’s wife, Hemsworth is especially underwhelming. The cinematic Thor wields an unbearably awful Texan accent. It’s not comically awful, just awful.

The minor laughs in Vacation aren’t worth the greater slog. This is a movie that finds a great deal of humor in a kid saying “fuck.” Daley and Goldstein can’t structure a coherent narrative around its assortment of gags. For example, there’s no reason that this family would somehow stop off at the college Debbie went to, let alone get out and wander the campus. Those kind of logical gaps could be forgivable if the ensuing situation were absolutely hilarious. But it isn’t, much like the vast majority of Vacation. Where National Lampoon’s Vacation made us laugh at the awful family trips many of us have experienced, Vacation attempts to actively recreate the experience of those horrible road trips – it lasts too long, has only a laugh or two, and features the music of Seal.

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