Just Stay Home for This ‘Vacation’ (FILM REVIEW)

[rating=4.00]

Whatever bad I have to say about Vacation—and there’s a lot—I want to acknowledge that it sure did try its best. That may not count for much, overall, but it counts for something; they could have easily just not tried and relied on the same jokes and the same bits as its predecessors, but that’s not the way they went. As Ed Helms cheekily reminds the audience, “The new vacation will stand on its own.” It’s important, I think, that a work stand or fall on its own merits, and this reboot/sequel hybrid, at the very least, does that. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save this movie from feeling tedious at every stretch of the road, even when it made me laugh. In a lot of ways, it felt a lot less like the original Chevy Chase Vacation and more like your family road trip from when you were 12—sure, you have a few good memories and you saw the Grand Canyon, and that was cool, you guess, but when you look back all you remember are the endless hours stuck in the backseat of your father’s sedan, mournfully staring out the window and wishing you could be literally anywhere else.

Helms stars as an adult Rusty Griswold—a role originated by Anthony Michael Hall in the original Vacation, later played by Jason Lively in European Vacation, and then continued by Johnny Galecki in Christmas Vacation…actually, you know what? If they recast Ed Helms in a sequel, I will take back every bad thing I say about this movie—son of Chase’s Clark from the original series. Astutely sensing that his family is in a rut (due to subtle hints such as his wife Debbie, played by Christina Applegate, saying that they’re in a rut) decides to shake up their annual family vacation by road tripping it out to Wally World, the theme park the Griswold’s visited to disastrous effect three decades ago.

Helms does his best to feel like Chevy Chase’s son. He never quite imitates his elder, but rather he picks up on similar mannerisms and modes of speech the same way a son might his own father. Hints of Chase’s dryness run throughout the film, but Helms is able to add his own spin on things, suggesting Chase rather than copying him. Applegate is perfectly serviceable as an aging ex-party girl coming to grips with her suburban existence and the two stars play well off each other, given the material they have to work with.

Ultimately, however, the material is lacking. This is a movie that finds its humor in things such as: An 11 year old saying “fuck,” the words “glory hole” and “rimjob,” and a running gag involving a trucker who’s awkwardly coy about whether or not he—or all truckers, for that matter—is a pedophile. There’s also puking, raw sewage, an obliterated cow, and a surreptitious attempt at sex on the Four Corners. I suppose all of this was in attempt to recapture the rawness of 80’s humor, but the results fall flat, even when they hit. It’s a swing and a miss for the writing duo of John Francis Daley (who you remember as Sam from Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan M. Goldstein, both of whom were recently signed on to pen the upcoming MCU based Spider-Man reboot.

If this is the kind of script these two write, it doesn’t bode well for Spidey. There are no attempts at character development—just having a character say “I’ve changed” doesn’t really count, guys—or intriguing plot. Maybe that’s my fault for looking for these things in a Vacation movie, I don’t know. I suppose there wasn’t a whole lot of development in the original movie, but what it did have was subtlety. The slapstick of the original Vacation was handled with a light touch, propelled mostly by Chase’s mastery of his craft. This new Vacation eschews the subtle for attempts at in-your-face, replacing a light hand with a heavy fist and beating its attempts at comedy into your skull with all the nuance of WrestleMania.

I guess none of this is surprising given that this was the same writing team that brought you the painfully unfunny The Incredible Burt Wonderstone a few years back. I’ll give them this though: Vacation is way funnier than that. I did genuinely laugh a few times, and there are a handful of cameos that push the movie into comedic territory it might not otherwise have touched. While it is a step in the right direction, however, it’s not exactly a step up. That’s unfortunate. The original Vacation is, in every sense of the word, a classic. I’ve got no problems with revisiting classic movies, nothing is too sacrosanct for me. But if you’re going to do it, do it well. Vacation, however, is not done well, resulting in an experience that’ll make you long for the comforts of your home.

Vacation is in theaters now.

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