Directed and written by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. Produced by David Dobkin and Chris Bender. Release date: July 29, 2015.
Released in 1983, National Lampoon’s Vacation is a staple among comedy fans. It had several sequels that never quite captured the magic of the original, and appeared as if it was going to end either in 1997 or in 2002, depending on whether or not you consider National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2 – a made-for-TV spinoff – canon. But there isn’t a money-making property that Hollywood doesn’t love to bring back from the dead, so now we’re getting Vacation, which sees a grown up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) taking his own family on a road trip to Walley World.
The idea here is that the film essentially acts as both a love-letter to, and a subversion of, the original film. In fact, it goes so far as to take a minute of our time to tell us that “this vacation will stand on its own,” and that it’s totally different from the original, because of reasons that it can’t actually come up with. There are two sons this time, you see, so it’s most definitely not the same. Nope. Not at all. Well, it’s true that this new film does stand on its own. You don’t have to have seen any of the previous movies in the series in order to understand almost everything going on in this one. That doesn’t make it good; it just means that you can “get” it without watching the earlier films. Sure, you may miss a couple of references, but the references and subversions aren’t particularly funny or clever, anyway.
You may or may not care, but Rusty Griswold grew up to be a relatively normal adult. He’s now an airline pilot, married to Debbie (Christina Applegate), and has two children: the awkward James (Skyler Gisondo), and the evil Kevin (Steele Stebbins). He has a simple and happy life. All he wants to do is take his family on a nice road trip to a place he went to as a child. Hijinks ensue. I’m pretty sure the pitch meeting for Vacation was one of the simplest in history. “What if a Griswold kid grew up and did a repeat of the first film?” Boom! The end. Mic dropped.
Vacation features what essentially amounts to a constant onslaught of cruel or gross shock humor gags. See, the film believes that if something is surprising then it is automatically funny. People swimming in raw sewage thinking they’re in hot springs? Funny! Someone getting hit by a car? Hilarious! A truck driver who is most definitely a child molester? What a knee-slapper of a humdinger! Some of this works, but the relentlessness and cruelty of most of these jokes and scenes wind up beating you down. By the time Vacation comes to an end, I was simply looking for some variety. There wasn’t any.
The less thought about Vacation the better, and here’s hoping it winds up putting the final nail in the coffin for this franchise.
Even many of the stops, which allow the Griswolds to meet various cameos, aren’t as entertaining as they should have been. Leslie Mann shows up as Audrey Griswold, now married to Stone (Chris Hemsworth). Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo get a couple of scenes as Rusty’s parents – reprising their roles from the earlier films. Charlie Day gets a couple of scenes, Keegan-Michael Key and Regina Hall show up for one scene, and there’s even a point at which Tim Heidecker, Kaitlin Olson, Michael Peña, and Nick Kroll share a scene together. These are all talented people who should have been far funnier than they are, but in the hands of writer-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, they simply aren’t.
Ed Helms, when he’s not wasting time and talent in the Hangover franchise, can be really funny. He’s given so little to do in Vacation that you have to wonder why they even bothered to hire Ed Helms. Christina Applegate fairs a little better, if only because of a couple of genuinely funny scenes in which she was the focus. Skyler Gisondo is boring as the awkward kid, and Steele Stebbins is kind of funny as the mean little brother, but they’re largely inconsequential. In fact, that’s what most of the film feels like. It’s a bunch of disconnected skits that have been strung together with the loosest of plots and called a feature film. It means nothing and exists simply to cash in on the audience’s nostalgia for the National Lampoon movies.
It’s not like Vacation is the worst comedy of the year – it’s realistically not even in the bottom five, which is a sad statement by itself – but it really is just a one-style joke movie with little at which to laugh and even less to like. The less thought about Vacation the better, and here’s hoping it winds up putting the final nail in the coffin for this franchise. It’s been milked enough; let’s let it rest in peace.
Bottom Line: Vacation is an unfunny comedy filled with dull shock humor and little else.
Recommendation: Forget about Vacation and just go re-watch National Lampoon’s Vacation for the umpteenth time.[rating=1.5]
If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.