Vacation (2015)

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Contains spoilers.

Harold Ramis' classic, 1983 hit National Lampoon's Vacation is comedy gold. It's a film whose basic storyline, fresh humor, and depth of heart have set new standards for the genre. This reboot, or relaunch, or revisit of the franchise (it's a reboot that tries really hard not to be, having one of the protagonists literally say, "This vacation will stand on it's own") is simply ill-fated.

From the trailers ruining what could've been good laughs to the overall too-modern look of the movie to the cheap laughs to the onslaught of comedian cameos, there isn't enough about this movie that could ever have justified it's making. For some reason, Chevy Chase gives his blessing to the movie, appearing at one point as a somehow crazy version of his own Clark character, giving some advice to his son about family vacations. Ed Helms, as the, now middle-aged, Rusty Griswold, has dragged his family on a short-sighted and selfish vacation that mirrors his childhood roadtrip. (But let's face it, with his rinsed-and-repeated, middle-aged, average-but-awkward, familiar shtick dialed in, he's just Ed Helms.) They fall prey to some mishaps and misfortune, driven along by some ignorance and gullibility, on their road from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The writer-director duo try desperately to cling onto the success of Ramis' original, but it's almost like they tried too hard. The story was written predictably with obvious throwbacks, like a batshit crazy car, a Tartan Prancer, that's overdone in all the wrong ways and fails to mock or parody in the way that the pea green Wagon Queen Family Truckster succeeded. In fact, the movie seems to be nothing but rinse-and-repeat jokes, dialed in shtick, and jokes through cringe. There's little to no subtlety or subtext, with just about everything being explained for us. Vacation becomes yet another Hollywood reboot, trotting around more and more vulgar jokes that masquerade themselves as harmless. In fact, with the number of cameos in the movie, it almost seems like it's trying to be the Expendables of the comedy genre, shoving as many actors in as possible. One can only hope there aren't two sequels this time...

Included throughout the roadtrip are comedian cameos, each one throwing around their recycled, comedic shtick, truly turning this could've-been movie into a routine of the familiar. The sense of humor has no originality about it, just giving old jokes a new angle: the badmouthing child, the cringe-worthy teenager, the awkward father... The have a little kid, Kevin, bullying his older brother, James, and give him one helluva potty mouth, then rectify it by having the older brother start bullying instead. They have Kevin suffocate James with a plastic bag, then try it again on Rusty's rival later in the film. They've even got us laughing at a vicious, high speed, highway death in a twisted mirroring of Clark's encounter with his own Ferrari hottie and then at a river rafting guide's glorious suicide. Throwing used, hypodermic needles, spreading legs to showoff an exuberant, prosthetic penis, driving an ATV through a cow, trying to explain what a rimjob is when you actually don't know... they're all comedic situations but the depth and the heart is lost on them. What was a fun and heart-filled story in 1983's Vacation was turned into a cheap and vulgar comedy with no hint of originality.

The only saving grace is in the acting of the brothers. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate star as a married couple in full recognition that their marriage isn't what it used to be. Like the other vacations, they hang out with relatives, this time being Audrey and her hunky husband, and find out later that Audrey's marriage to Stone, apparently, is a sham. It hints at subtext between Rusty and Debbie but the background information never really shows up. There's one moment of marital doubt when Debbie's wedding band is lost, but otherwise it appears a happy, if sexless, marriage until Russell finds a marriage counseling book hidden by Debbie. Their marriage troubles never come across on screen. On the other hand, the brotherly strife between James and Kevin is glorious, and really the only source of laughing out loud throughout the film, from James picking on Kevin in a strange and awkward way to James' overall weirdness. Although the little love story between James and Adena is funny now and then, but overall bland and implausible in every way.

Vacation tries so hard to be deep and to speak to important family dynamics but fails astoundingly. It isn't realistic or even very funny. And though it tries to have relevance, there were much better things that the directing duo could've done. Why does Rusty's employment as a pilot have to be so highlighted? It could've been a single anecdote to provide background information. Why do they need a zealously overimagined car? It could've been a subtle mocking of modern cars, but they had to fail at this too. And by the way, the movie has no climax, instead what should be a climactic moment is literally stalled upside down, so we don't even get a moment of triumph. Let's just hope there's no sequel... the reboot is bad, but sequels are worse.

 

TL;DR: Vacation is funny. Sometimes. But it's dragged by the vehicle of a terrible story that tries to be funny in the cheapest ways possible, with Ed Helms' familiar, middle-aged, awkward, average husband shtick getting tired and droll. There are certainly funny parts, but not enough of them to be worthwhile or memorable. It's not so much that the original is classic and/or better (even though it is) but more that this just isn't good.

  • Acting – 10 / 20
  • Story – 4 / 20
  • Cinematography – 5 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 2 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 5 / 10
  • Comedy – 5 / 10
  • Other – 4 / 10
 

Grade F = 35 / 100