“What kind of a**hole would drive his family cross-country?” implores Audrey Griswold of her happless brother Rusty. Well, quite.
The trusty family road-trip has an assured place in Hollywood history, but much like the real thing, can fall from being fun fodder to hellish monotony fairly quickly. The shining gem from that particular genre is, of course, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983).
The original, you may recall, had plenty of comedic heft, thanks to a script written by John Hughes and Ghostbusters star Harold Ramis. Canny marketers figured it was high time for a re-tread, and so Rusty, the teenage son from the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, is now a grown-up himself (and played by Ed Helms of The Hangover fame), with his own dysfunctional nuclear family, and dreams of getting his own clan to Wally’s World waterpark.
Luckily, the Griswolds (v2.0) are a likeable enough bunch. Rusty’s wife (played amusingly by the much-underrated Christina Applegate), true to cliché, is a sexually frustrated mum, who only sparks to life when Rusty’s brother in-law (a ‘meh’ turn by Chris Hemsworth) looms into view.
The Griswold kids are charming in their own ways. The younger one Kevin, played by Steele Stebbins, appears to be the brains behind the operation, and swears worse than any adult around. James (Skyler Gisondo), on the other hand, doesn’t exploit his status as older brother, and remains the innocent yin to Kevin’s Machiavellian yang.
Taking on the might of Chevy Chase’s classic is a bold move on behalf of Warner… but does it pay off?
Sort of. Vacation can rarely be described as clever, and there are broad stroke jokes that you’ll see coming a country mile away. As the new generation of Griswolds lumber across the country, the audience is treated to pratfall after catastrophe after embarrassing moment. There are car-related mishaps (yawn), an accidental dunk in some raw sewage (sigh) and an irritating white-water rafting instructor, played by Charlie Day (is this film still on?).
Add some puking and an exploding cow into the mix, and Vacation isn’t much more than one weird moment after another.
Helms does ‘hapless dad’ quite well, inhabiting the same sort of comedy space as Will Ferrell. Then again, with the gross-out gags and fart jokes coming at a rate of knots, Helms is well within his comfort zones.
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But when Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo loom into view, it becomes painfully clear that Vacation will not be reaching the same heights as the original (Chevy Chase has very possibly been blackmailed on pain of death to be involved, as he looks pretty unwilling to be on camera at all).
How could the two films, ostensibly about the same thing, be so wildly different in nature?
Comedy wise, Vacation is bawdy, but sitting on its laurels. Nostalgia for National Lampoon’s Vacation might get bums on seats, but beyond that, Vacation is safe and complacent.
You know you’re in trouble when the actual car — an Albanian rental with a mind of its own — gets the most laughs.
Funnily enough, despite being a tidy 90 minutes, it’s likely to have you fidgeting like a kid in the back seat of a very long car journey.
Bring plenty of colouring books and snacks.
Comedy. Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Ron Livingstone, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo. Cert: 15A