Movie Review: “Vacation”

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Nostalgia is an understandable, if perhaps misguided reaction to “Vacation,” a sequel/reboot of 1983’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
The soundtrack tugs at…something…every time Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” theme song burbles back to life.
And Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles from the original film in brief appearances in the third act.
But with every desperate F-bomb, every “Dad, what’s a rim job?” crudity, every crass overreach into vulgarity, “Vacation” feels pointless, dated and dirty.
Not that the original film, R-rated in its day yet watched by families as a “family” comedy ever since, is anybody’s idea of a classic. It’s just that scene by scene, character by character, “Vacation” flails and fails to find what used to be funny about a fading American tradition — the family “road trip.”
Ed Helms is Rusty Griswold, long-suffering son of long-suffering Clark (Chase) from that long-ago trek in an insanely ugly new station wagon. A pilot with a lightly-regarded budget airline, Rusty realizes he can’t drag the wife (Christina Applegate), dorky, sensitive teen (Skyler Gisondo) and the teen’s bullying much-younger brother (Steele Stebbins) to Europe. But he can rent a Tartan Prancer minivan (“Its the Honda of Albania!”) and recreate that epic childhood trek to Walley World.
Along the way, they’ll visit Mom’s Memphis alma mater (Mom’s college nickname was “Debbie Do-Anything,” apparently), catch up with Rusty’s sister (Leslie Mann) who married a hunky Texas weatherman/rancher (Chris Hemsworth), raft the Grand Canyon (Charlie Day’s their manic depressive guide) and spend a fortune at a theme park.
The teen strums his guitar, falls for a girl (Catherine Missal) also on a road trip, and is bullied, pitilessly, by his foul-mouthed sibling. Dad runs afoul of a deadly, unseen trucker. And Mom tries to hide her disappointment.
Every so often, Helms (“The Hangover”) suggests a hint of Chase’s Dad trying to put a positive spin on every setback, a man struggling with shifting roles in the family dynamic. “Just a minor setback,” he says, just like his dad. “We can handle this.” He tries to lead sing-alongs…to Seal.
Veteran funnywoman Applegate channels the adult version of her “Married…With Children” self.
None of the cameos scores laughs, save for the screeching Day.
But the appearance of Chase and D’Angelo, all these decades later, still manages a sentimental tug on the heart. That’s the only shocking reaction generated by this movie, which serves as more of a statement on where the R-rated comedy stands in our culture than any update on the State of the Family.

1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity

Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth, Skyler Gisondo, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day
Credits: Written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, based on characters from the 1983 film “National Lampoon’s Vacation”. A New Line/Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:39

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6 Responses to Movie Review: “Vacation”

  1. Gregory says:

    Speak for yourself. I can’t speak to the quality of the 2015 movie, but you’re the first person I know of that DOESN’T think the original from 1983 is a classic. I personally find it to be one of the funniest movies of all time, and I know of many professional critics who certainly think very, very highly of it.

  2. Keith says:

    Wait, don’t tell me…another raunchy comedy. Go figure.

  3. heavy g says:

    uhhh……., by ANYONES measure, the first Vacation is a CLASSIC. I understand that it obviously isn’t your cup of tea, but as a critic with supposed knowledge of movies , to say it isn’t regarded as a classic is simple ignorance. You my friend are in the vast minority on this one. Sorry I had to call you out on this one, but you guys drive me nuts sometimes …… cheers

    • It was generic John Hughes lowbrow (as opposed to his sensitive teen pix) then, still is. Rube relatives, rude kids? Junkfood even then. Happy you got to grow up on it, but setting the bar low for yourself from childhood isn’t going to pay off.

  4. heavy g says:

    p.s. , the original Vacation is at 95% on RottenTomatoes, …. just calling to confirm

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