You know, ’cause the first trip went so well… Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth and Chevy Chase star in Vacation.
Cast of Characters:
Rusty Griswold – Ed Helms
Debbie Griswold – Christina Applegate
Audrey Griswold-Crandall – Leslie Mann
Ellen Griswold – Beverly D’Angelo
Ethan – Ron Livingston
James Griswold – Skyler Gisondo
Kevin Griswold – Steele Stebbins
Stone Crandall – Chris Hemsworth
Clark Griswold – Chevy Chase
Director – Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Screenplay – Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Based on characters created by John Hughes
Producer – David Dobkin & Chris Bender
Rated R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity
Now grownup, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) seemingly has the idyllic life; however, it’s in a rut and is in dire need of a shakeup. His piloting job for the considerably smaller airline Econo-Air isn’t providing him with many career opportunities, his marriage with Debbie (Christina Applegate) is running on autopilot, and his oldest son James (Skyler Gisondo) is constantly being bullied to the max by his youngest boy Kevin (Steele Stebbins).
So with their annual family vacation coming up, Rusty decides to shake it up a bit by canceling their usual trip to their cabin in Sheboygan and instead revisiting a childhood memory of his own by taking the family cross-country to Walley World.
Of course, on this trip Murphy’s calling shotgun.
Vacation marks the fifth entry in the comedy franchise centering around the Griswold family (technically the sixth if you’re feeling generous enough to count Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure). Over the course of time, the Griswolds have endured Walley World, Europe, Christmas, Vegas and jarringly noticeable continuity shifts with kids Rusty and Audrey’s age, personality and appearance. Now, a little over three decades since the Griswolds packed their suitcases and headed on out to Walley World the first time, the Griswolds are doing it once again, but this time it’s Rusty and not Clark who’s leading his clan to the “as Disney-inspired as you can get without getting sued” theme park.
I can’t say that I was jumping up and down in anticipation for this film. It’s been 18 years since the most recent theatrical release of a Vacation film (1997’s Vegas Vacation), and 32 years since Harold Ramis’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, so one has to wonder if the bigwigs at New Line Cinema actually believed the college-age demographic would be lining up in droves for a Vacation sequel/reboot/remake.
Even though their genres are apples and oranges, I’m sure similar arguments were made for the critical/box office hit Mad Max: Fury Road before its release.
Regardless of my initial thoughts, casting Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, all strong comic talents, and bringing back series veterans Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, had me holding out hope that maybe they could make another trip to Walley World one worth revisiting.
And like Dinky the ill-fated dog, this film tragically dragged my hopes across the street until they died a slow and very painful death.
Poor little guy… Probably kept up for a mile or so.
All the charm, energy and fun that made the first Vacation so great has been sucked completely out by co-writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, which is incredibly disappointing given the talented group of actors, all of whom are proven comic assets, they have at their disposal. Yeah, they do have Horrible Bosses to their name (then again, they also have Horrible Bosses 2 as well, so… yeah), but that film benefited from a terrific cast who all worked so well together. To Goldstein and Daley’s credit, though, they did supply their Horrible Bosses crew with enough jokes to make one assume they could do the same again with a similarly talented cast like they have here.
This film suffers from a variety of problems that I could rattle off here…
- So Rusty – BEING AN AIRLINE PILOT – still chooses to drive his family cross-country to Walley World?
- “Getting there is half the fun” and having all that family bonding time are reasons that would make perfect sense if Rusty’s original trip three decades ago wasn’t such a monumental disaster (one dead dog, one dead aunt, one bat-shit crazy father, and nearly getting arrested for holding a theme park security guard hostage).
- Rusty was never anything like his bumbling, overly-optimistic goof of a dad, so it’s kinda hard to buy him being everything like him now.
- Siblings definitely act like total douches to each other, but never openly in front of their parents like they do here, and certainly not without getting a good hard, well-deserved smack upside the head.
Whatever, though. Let’s cut to the chase. This film just isn’t funny, and every opportunity that is presented to Goldstein and Daley is ignored in place of cheap, lowest common denominator jokes that reek of laziness. The beauty of the original Vacation is that director Harold Ramis and writer John Hughes took the film down some dark avenues, riffing on racial humor, animal abuse, incest, adultery and armed assault with a BB gun, but did so in clever ways that didn’t need to resort to mean-spirited behavior or cheap gross-out gags.
This has Christina Applegate smearing shit all over her face (a gag that was already spoiled in the previews anyway), so… yeah.
The biggest letdown here is how this talented cast is utterly wasted. These are typically funny actors given nothing to do other than persevere through this dreck, and the most glaring problem is unfortunately the casting of Ed Helms. Helms brings the charm that Chase first gave to Clark, but he lacks the bottled-up edge that Chase perfectly mixed with his charm to make his character the endearing idiot that he is, huge emphasis on the idiot (Ramis and Hughes’s unapologetic self-awareness of Clark’s idiocy is also sadly missing as well). It’d be fine if they were letting Rusty standalone as his own character, but it’s clear that Goldstein and Daley are trying to make Ed Helms Clark Griswold 2.0 and it just doesn’t work.
I got a few chuckles here and there. Chris Hemsworth is totally game here and shows no problem in poking fun at his heartthrob image, but only gets to work with the one-note “big dick” joke Goldstein and Daley offer him (hopefully, Paul Feig, a much more proven comedic director, puts him to better use in the Ghostbusters reboot). And I admit to cracking a smile when Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and the Wagon Queen Family Truckster show up near the end, even though it’s almost a crime that the two faces of the whole series are reduced to just a few sympathy chuckles solely ’cause of nostalgia (I kid you not, D’Angelo and Leslie Mann probably have a combined six lines of dialogue between the two of them).
Just so you know, Goldstein and Daley have been brought on to write the Sony/Marvel Spider-Man reboot. Bravo, Kevin Feige.
It’s fitting that Rusty says this Vacation will “stand on its own”. The fact that the 1983 film is a classic and this film sucks balls means he’s absolutely right. Vacation has its moments but overall suffers greatly from desperate gross-out gags and forced nostalgic recalls of what made the first film so memorable. The road map may be similar, but this time getting there isn’t even close to being half the fun as the Griswold clan’s original trip to Walley World.
I give Vacation a D (★).
REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…
8/3/15 What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
8/4/15 Benjamin’s Stash
8/7/15 Fantastic Four
8/7/15 The Gift
8/8/15 Ricki and the Flash
8/8/15 Shaun the Sheep Movie