Film Review – Vacation
The Vacation series is a strange beast. The original National Lampoon’s Vacation is a bonafide comedic classic and I look forward to re-visiting Christmas Vacation each year like only a former Jehovah’s Witness could. European Vacation has its moments and Vegas Vacation, well..it’s gotta be better than that straight-to-video Cousin Eddie spin-off. (Plus, Wayne Newton cameo, bro.)
Likely to appease longtime fans, first-time directors John Francis Daley (who nerds know is Sam from Freaks and Geeks!) and Jonathan M. Goldstein opted to make it a reboot/continuation rather than straight remake. A grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), now a father himself, inexplicably decides a second road trip to Walley World is just the ticket to re-vitalizing his marriage and earning the respect of his sons. Did you not even see the first movie, Rusty?
Rounding out the family are his bemused wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and squabbling sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). His attempts to excite them about the trip leads to an extended piece of meta-commentary on the idea of reboots as a whole that’s particularly clever and sets the bar high for the hijinks to come. Too high, as it turns out. Some running gags prove successful. The foreign rental car with unpredictable features. Rusty’s unabashed love of Seal‘s “Kiss From A Rose.” The relentless bullying of a considerably younger brother. But just as often, we’re mistreated to scenes of extended vomiting, animal cannibalism, and the never-hilarious “oops, we’ve been swimming in raw sewage this whole time” sequence. (Ok ok, it was little funny when Frank Drebin did it.)
A movie is only as funny as its jokes and Vacation has several. Some hit, some miss. Take the dynamic between The Brothers Griswold. It is both hilarious and disarming to see pint-sized Kevin find eight different ways to call his older brother a pussy. Just as this riff begins to border on tiring, it’s resolved in a way that feels natural enough. (Specifically, to impress a girl.) Compare this to the aforementioned scene in which its revealed to us, the audience, that the family is basking in a creek of excrement a full 2 minutes before they themselves come to realize it. That’s a long time to have to endure “mud”bath “jokes.” (This review brought to you by snarky quotation mark placeage.)
Comedy fans will likely enjoy the bevy of cameos Vacation managed to wrangle together. It’s no secret at this point that Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are back, albeit briefly. I won’t reveal any others here but just scope out the trailer if you’re looking for spoilers.
Because his name is on the poster, I will say that Chris Hemsworth puts in one hell of a performance as Stone Crandall, husband of Rusty’s sister Audrey (here played by Leslie Mann). He puts it all out there–wink uh wink–and delivers even his weakest lines with the confidence only an Avenger could muster.
I dunno, maybe I’m getting cynical in my oldish age. The audience at the screening I attended laughed heartily throughout. I guess their gag reflexes are just a little less sensitive than my own.