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.
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