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Vacation

D: Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley / 99m

Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall

Q: When is a movie a remake, a sequel and a reboot all put together?

A: When it’s Vacation!

With movie franchises being extended or rebooted at every turn, it was only a matter of time before we started to see an influx of movies made from comedies out of the Eighties (there’s a Police Academy reboot in the works, and Kevin Smith is still keen to make another Fletch movie). But while we anxiously await the arrival of a further Lemon Popsicle or Porky’s installment, we have this latest attempt at producing a contemporary version of a much-loved comedy favourite.

The set up is clever enough: now grown up, Rusty Griswold (Helms) has a family of his own: wife Debbie (Applegate), teenage son James (Gisondo), and pre-teen son Kevin (Stebbins). Each year he takes them all to the same cabin in the woods that everyone except Rusty is tired of. But when he overhears Debbie complaining about it to one of their friends he realises he needs to come up with a different destination this year. Remembering the trip he took to Walley World with his dad Clark (Chase), mom Ellen (D”Angelo) and sister Audrey (Mann) when he was a kid, Rusty decides the best way to get his family to be more excited about going away is to plan a road trip to the theme park that he recalls so fondly.

It’s at this point that the movie casts a knowing wink at the audience, and does its best to sound cleverer than it actually is. In response to James’s statement that he’s “never heard of the original vacation”, Rusty replies confidently, “Doesn’t matter. The new vacation will stand on its own”. It’s a bold though far from oversold moment, and one that will have fans of the original saying to themselves, “Really?” And that particular word will be one that viewers will come back to time and again as the Griswold family road trip unfolds from Chicago to Santa Monica with all the grim inevitability of an influenza outbreak in an old folks’ home.

Vacation - scene

With the original framework firmly in place, Vacation relies on a mix of modern day gross out humour, old fashioned puerility, and laboured jokes to provide the comedy while asking its cast to take a back seat and not do anything too funny. It’s a strange circumstance, but watch the movie closely and you’ll find that Helms, Applegate et al aren’t that funny in themselves (or as their characters), and that the script by Goldstein and Daley has the Griswolds acting largely as observers of their own road trip. On the few occasions when one of them is directly involved in a comedic situation, such as Rusty helping Stone Crandall (Hemsworth), his sister’s overly endowed husband, to round up some cows, the initial joke of his killing one is outdone by the one that follows, when one of the other cows chows down on the remains (yes folks, it’s a movie first, cannibal cows).

Elsewhere we’re treated to a paedophile trucker, a side trip to Debbie’s old alma mater, the Griswolds bathing in raw sewage, a rental car called the Prancer that comes with a remote control that includes buttons labelled with a rocket and a swastika (wisely, Rusty never presses that button), Stone showing off his “six pack”, a love interest for James, a white water rafting trip that goes wrong thanks to just-jilted guide Chad (Day), and the sight of Kevin trying to suffocate his older brother with a cellophane bag – twice (though, admittedly, the timing of this makes it a whole lot funnier than it sounds). There are various subplots: Rusty and Debbie’s attempts to put the spark back into their marriage by having sex wherever and whenever they can; Kevin’s bullying of James; Rusty’s run-ins with rival airline pilot Ethan (Livingston); and the whole notion of a family trying to bond over a trip only one of them wants to make (again).

If you’re easily amused, and don’t mind how uneven the movie is, then Vacation will seem like a great movie to sit down with a few beers and watch on a Saturday night, but the reality is that it’s hard to tell if writers/directors Goldstein and Daley were either in a rush with the script, or felt constrained by having to follow the original in terms of the movie’s structure. Whatever the case, the movie coasts along without making too much of an impact, and mixes gross out humour with long stretches of quiet amiability, and some very awkward moments that can’t help but feel out of place e.g. Rusty’s uncertain knowledge of sexual matters leads to James wanting to give the girl he likes a rim job (he thinks it’s kissing with your lips closed).

Vacation - scene2

The cast cope well enough, and it’s good to see Chase back as the Griswold patriarch, but equally it won’t be long before you’re wondering what’s happened to his eyelids. There are some cameos dotted here and there, and a certain singer appears in the closing credits, but there’s no standout character or performance. What this movie really needed was someone like Cousin Eddie to come along and really stir things up.

Rating: 5/10 – not as amusing as the original movie it tries to emulate, Vacation suffers from trying too hard to be funny, and not having the conviction to be as subversive as its predecessor (watch it again to see how dark it is); beautifully shot however, and with a great soundtrack that features Seal’s Kiss from a Rose, this is technically well made but not a movie you’ll want to watch more than once.

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