Vacation is at heart – a poor cash-in

by Steve Pulaski

Just this week, I was reviewing Peter Bogdanovich’s latest film She’s Funny That Way and remarked how it was a rare adult comedy that would actually appeal to adults. Its manic sensibilities and frequently incorrigible characters didn’t derail it from being a spirited film, but it did prevent it from being one that got caught up in such empty, dirty-minded antics that it forgot about the characters. Now here comes Vacation, another sequel (I guess) to the long-running National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise, which started all the way back in 1983 with future installments coming in the form of more theatrical films, direct-to-DVD projects, and even an extended Super Bowl commercial a few years back. Vacation is a film that, paradoxically, bears a hard R-rating, despite the fact that most of the film’s jokes will appeal to those who cannot get into the film at the local multiplex without a parent or adult guardian (both parties would be far more enriched seeing something, perhaps anything, else playing in the theaters at this time).

Vacation is the epitome of a lazy film, reminiscent of a sequel like The Hangover: Part II or even Meet the Fockers, where the plot is a tireless retread of jokes that worked in the first film because they were fresh, but seeing them now, they are overdone and underwritten. Now, however, the stakes are higher and raunchiness is injected into the film’s premise. The original Vacation film, while carrying an R-rating, still basked in the light of relatively jolly, upbeat humor and was a quietly crass take on the conventional family road trip. This film is a soulless project, so predictable and worn that it’d be a more pleasant endeavor trying to start and drive the Griswold’s Wagon Queen Family Truckster from the original film.

Directed by
John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo
Release Date
29 July 2015
Steve’s Grade: D

We focus on Rusty (Ed Helms), the son of Clark and Ellen Griswold (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo), who is now living with his loving wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Rusty, who works as a pilot for an economy airline, notices a disturbing disintegration of his family, with his wife tiring of their love-making and her hatred for their yearly vacation to Sheboygan and the constant bickering of his two boys. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Rusty decides to take his family to the fabled Wally World, the theme park where his parents took him and his sister when they were young.

The Griswold’s hit the road and, to everyone’s surprise, a number of crazy circumstances come their way. For starters, they get a 2015 Tartan Prancer, “the Honda of Albania,” so claims Rusty, with numerous buttons, two gas tanks, and an outlet to charge at any gas station. The comedic possibilities are already bubbling. Furthermore, the Griswold’s decide to stop at a hot springs and take a roundabout way into the pool that results in them getting in a pool of raw sewage. This forces the gang to show up to Rusty’s sister Audrey’s (Leslie Mann) home, where she is married to a meathead (Chris Hemsworth) who loves to show off his six pack and his well-endowed package. Ho ho.

The stench of desperation in the writing/directing team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s comic possibilities makes Vacation seem a lot longer than it really is, almost like a real-life family vacation for the viewer. The situations almost always lead to the foreseeable outcome, the jokes rely heavily on vulgarities, making them witless and unconvincing, and the characters carry a blandness despite bearing the name that’s synonymous with family road trips, even in the modern day.

Some of the most fun material of the film stems from the constant bickering between James and Kevin, with Kevin, the younger brother, constantly harassing James, calling him out when he’s trying to talk to a girl and even going as far as to try and have him black out by suffocating him with a plastic bag. This darkly funny absurdity livens up the predictability of the film, but not in a way that can save the sorely lacking chemistry in the film (especially after Kevin ups the courage to defend himself in the face of James, resulting in an entirely laughless and downright bizarre scene).

Vacation‘s problem is its level of vulgarity and its comic setups seem to be ostensibly crafted from what a prepubescent teenager finds funny. While we have sporadic humor from the two kids, and Ed Helms is probably the only person who can play Rusty Griswold with such incorruptible positivity in the face of catastrophe, this doesn’t disguise what Vacation is at heart – a poor cash-in on a franchise that takes a raunchy direction in the most contrived and facile way imaginable.