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Josh Reviews Vacation

National Lampoon’s Vacation was a film I loved dearly when I was a kid.  It was so funny and raunchy and felt a little bit dangerous to my young self.  (I probably saw it at a younger age than I should have, though on the other hand perhaps that was the perfect age at which to have watched it!)  The film captured Chevy Chase at the height of his comedic powers.  I never felt any of the sequels were able to recapture that magic of the original, though Christmas Vacation came the closest.

While I always loved Vacation, I never felt the movie was so pure or perfect that a reboot was objectionable.  Quite the contrary, I think the concept is elastic enough that it should/could be able to support multiple iterations.  (This is as opposed to, say, Ghostbusters, which I am very unhappy to see being rebooted/remade.  I love Paul Feig and he has assembled a marvelous cast, but I wish they had made an original film and called it something else.  But I digress.)

Vacation.cropped

This latest Vacation starts off on the right foot for this particular film fan by not being a reboot, but rather an in-continuity sequel to the earlier films.  Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the now-adult son of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold.  Rusty wants to create a memorable, bonding experience for his family so he decides to recreate the road-trip to Wally World on which his dad took his family decades before.  This is a great idea for the film, in that it allows the movie to have basically the same structure as the original film, while also allowing the story to be filled with all-new hi-jinks.

Unfortunately, while I certainly laughed a lot while watching Vacation, it’s not a particularly clever comedy.  Many of the jokes, while funny, are fairly obvious and rather low-brow.  (I have nothing against gross-out humor — as an example, the diarrhea sequence in Bridesmaids is a classic piece of comedy gold — but the bathing-in-sewage sequence in this film doesn’t feel to me to have anything approaching that sort of originality.)  And sadly most of the film’s very best jokes were spoiled in the trailers.  (Any fun that “Griswold Springs” sequence might have had was ruined because I knew exactly where that whole bit was going from the first second, because I’d seen the pay-off in all the trailers.  So that whole five-plus minutes of the movie became totally boring to me.)

The film is well-cast.  Ed Helms is a solid choice as the lead.  He plays Rusty as a familiar Ed Helms character — well-meaning but dim, with an undercurrent of desperation — but it works for who we can imagine Rusty’s having grown up to become.  I really like Christina Applegate and she’s certainly game for anything in this film.  I often feel she’s better than the film she’s in, though, and this movie is no different.  I hope that someday she will get to play a truly great character in a truly great comedy.  Here she is perfectly entertaining as Rusty’s wife, Debbie, but she really doesn’t have much of a character to play.  I did enjoy Rusty’s kids, and the film makes one of its few original choices in creating the dynamic between the two, with it being the younger boy who’s the bully of his older brother.  There were some good surprise laughs from the outrageous behavior of the younger boy.

As one might expect, some fun familiar faces pop up along the Griswold’s journey.  My favorites were Rusty’s sister Audrey, now played by Leslie Mann, and her buff, strutting peacock of a husband played by Chris Hemsworth.  Again, many of the jokes in that sequence were spoiled by the trailers, but there were some damn good jokes in that sequence and that was, I think, my favorite episode of this episodic film.  There’s also Charlie Day as a manic, possibly suicidal rafting guide, Norman Reedus as a menacing truck driver (in the film’s weird, somewhat-of-a-stretch recurring parody of Steven Spielberg’s Duel), Keegan-Michael Key as a family friend of Rusty’s, Ron Livingston as a rival airline pilot, and more.

As you’ve probably read, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo also appear, reprising their roles as Rusty’s parents Clark & Ellen Griswold.  It’s sadder than I expected to see Chevy as old and heavy as he is now on-screen.  But there’s still a spark of that Chevy magic, like in the way he milks the moment of Clark’s fumbling to take a guitar out of its case.  That little bit of business made the rest of that sequence worth it for me.

Vacation is a fun movie to see, but it’s not particularly smart or memorable.  I enjoyed it for sure, but I can’t imagine this will be a film I’ll be re-watching any time soon.

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