Written and Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein.
Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, and Michael Pena.
The Griswold’s drives cross-country to Walley World in this inspired reboot of the 1983 original so Rusty reconnect with his family.
It’s important to note this film is a continuation of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series as Ed Helms takes the role as Rusty Griswold, the fourth actor to do so, and is now a father of his own. The inspiration for this Griswold to take this eerily similar trip, which the film explicitly notes the technical difference that this trip will have two sons and not a son-daughter duo, is identical to the original – for the family to be closer together in a cramped space. Ed, now portraying Rusty as the patriarch, does carry many of the mannerisms, attitudes, and idiosyncrasies Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold did from the previous films. The family unit is definitely a modernized incarnation, notably the youngest son always staring at the iPad/iPhone, and the wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), disputing over Instagram picture approval ratings from other suburban housewives. In this cynical modern world, such traditionalist values are difficult to accept as wholly genuine, and more so through the mean-spirited nature of the film. The aggressive humorous tone makes such family values hard to be seen, or warmly recognized. In short, only Rusty’s blind optimism he has taken from his father in prior films, and his family’s begrudging acceptance is the only solidly positive thing about this film.
From the opening credits of crude and crass amateur family pictures (they’re, honestly, just random holiday pics from none of the characters in the film) one is prepared this will be packed with broad gags with minimal wit, or well-earned punchlines. The barrage of offensive humor is, at times, plainly cruel, notably the murderous actions from the youngest sibling to his older brother. Moreover, the situations the family find themselves in are either forced for a shock laugh, or too predictably stretched for a decent pay-off. In short, the humor, for the most part, is lacking.
Also, can someone tell some Hollywood studio that car chases aren’t funny? This is more so when they’re CGI, and prove to only be padding for the film’s overall run time.
Where the humor does shine are the Meta moments – probably taken from the writer/director duo’s prior work on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 – as it acknowledges die-hard fans will be comparing the two. However, this sometimes doesn’t work for while the set pieces reference the original in all their glory, the film insists on upping the ante to up-teen-stupid-fold. The references to the Grand Canyon, the model in the red Ferrari, and the decrepit campground are given such a polish gloss over it becomes at the film’s detriment. Where is the grit, the earthy texture, and the grounded nature the original had?
The numerous cameo appearances come thick and fast, and one has to wonder whether it’s an actual cameo appearance, or if one is watching way too much Netflix. More importantly, they add more than a “who’s who” to the film watching experience, but the characters they portray emphasize the lunacy of the films. The appearance of Chris Hemsworth and Leslie Mann as a conservative Texan couple is absurd, is on the cusp of politics, and, above all, is very funny. However, they can’t mask the shortcomings that some gags are over-stretched and one begins to wonder, “What’s the joke here?”
Vacation requires foreknowledge of its original to fully appreciate some of the gags. It promises a welcome return to the mature 15/R-rated comedies the first installment had, but it has too many misses to be a hit. The film’s saving grace is the family unit and meta-jokes, but they can’t mask its mean-spirited nature, and shock humor that either go nowhere, or lack a well-earned pay-off. It’s hard to imagine, but this loose remake makes the original appear nuanced.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★