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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I’m not a huge fan of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series of movies, but I can say that I like them and I’ve seen them all (even the weirdo European Vacation and the awful Vegas Vacation). The initial film in the series is regarded as a comedy classic, and I think that’s just fine; it’s pretty funny and Chevy Chase is fantastic as the Griswold patriarch. The script (from 80s vet John Hughes, based loosely on his own family experiences) is funny and memorable as well. Christmas Vacation is a great seasonal comedy movie that I try to watch every year. It’s infinitely quotable and off the wall without being entirely unrealistic (at least until the fourth reel). I like them all just fine, sure, why not?
But do I like them well enough to be interested in a series reboot? Nah, not really. I probably never would have even seen 2015’s Vacation reboot (starring Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold, previously played, among other actors, by The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki) at all if not for the HBO Go service. Having recently renewed HBO Go in order to watch Game of Thrones (among other shows and films as well), I happened to notice a few recent films available on demand, and decided to check out Vacation on almost a total whim. I had only heard bad things, and upon seeing it I now understand why. It is not a particularly good film. In fact, it’s downright unpleasant.
Here’s the (extremely thin) premise: Ed Helms’ Rusty notices his family is not getting along lately. His kids are fighting a lot and his wife seems bored and uninterested in him romantically. So instead of jet-setting off to Paris with his wife to rekindle their romance like she wants, he decides to drive the family across the country to Wally World, the Six Flags-like adventure theme park the Griswold family visited in the first film in the series. Helms’ Rusty wants to recapture the magic he felt upon first visiting Wally World as a child come hell or high water. So the family rents a van (a constant source of unfunny ridicule) and heads out for adventures, making various stops along the way just as the Griswold family did in the original film.
Vacation has copious amounts of issues, first and foremost with its script. Penned by Freaks and Geeks alum John Francis Daley (who also wrote the equally atrocious Burt Wonderstone and co-directed this film with Jonathan Goldstein), the film simultaneously relies on cheap family nostalgia and gross-out gags. The tone is wild and varying throughout. We’re meant to both laugh at Helm’s Rusty Griswold and also sympathize with or pity him, but the script never seems to have his back, nor does it give us a reason to care about his journey. There’s no reason whatsoever to cheer for this schlemiel of a man. The entire premise of the film is predicated on his selfishness, putting his needs before those of the family that is crying out for their patriarch. These people need Rusty Griswold, but he’s only interested in recapturing what he experienced as a child 30 years ago.
The rest of the Griswold family is as equally unpleasant as Rusty. Christina Applegate plays Rusty’s disaffected wife who is equal parts unpleasant and nasty. I truly expected her on multiple occasions to just up and divorce Rusty and abandon the family on the spot, and I can’t say I would have blamed her. The two Griswold children are also unpleasant, with the older one giving off serious creeper vibes and the younger one an obnoxious pre-teen desperately in need of a toning-down by the horrible script. Leslie Mann, perhaps the most annoying actress in the history of American comedy, makes a cameo as Rusty’s sister Audrey, and hams it up with an embarrassing Chris Hemsworth, portraying an American cowboy without an ounce of authenticity. By the time Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo show up for their requisite cameos, it’s so late in the film I could barely muster the energy to give a shit.
It’s hard to overstate just how awful this film is. It’s somehow derivative of films that are also awful, like We’re the Millers or the 2006 Robin Williams vehicle (no pun intended) RV, but I’d rather watch We’re the Millers and RV a hundred times in a row one after the other than endure another five minutes of Daley’s awful new Vacation film. If you happen to like nasty and vile characters who spend great lengths of time bickering back and forth, hitting each other, and covered in human shit (sometimes all three at once!), perhaps this is the film for you. If you want to see a man covered in cow entrails while another cow cannibalizes said entrails, again check out this film. If you’re interested in quality, entertaining products that aren’t horrible and cheap, go ahead and skip this one. You’ll probably be better off.