July 31, 2015

Vacation


Grade: C
Director:  John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth and Charlie Day
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

“I've never even heard of the original vacation,” says young Kevin Griswold on the eve of another misbegotten cross-country family foray in the sequel “Vacation.”

“Doesn't matter,” deadpans Rusty (Ed Helms), scion to Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold. “The new vacation will stand on its own.”

Not exactly. Vacation is far removed from the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, the 1983 Harold Ramis farce that introduced the world to the Griswolds and their ill-fated misadventure to Walley World, the fictitious amusement park. The film echoed the frustrations of the Reagan-era middle-class and their proud but elusive attempts to realize the American dream.

The new Vacation is a retread as noxious as the Arkansas sewage pond that Rusty, wife Debbie (Christina Applegate), and sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) unwittingly wade into en route from Chicago for a return visit to Walley World.

Rusty, now grown into a veritable Clark clone, is a hapless airline pilot for an econo carrier with a stale love life and no respect from his sons. James is a literary-loving introvert, while the foul-mouthed Kevin concocts devious ways to torture his older brother.

So Rusty piles the family into a rented minivan bound for California—if you’re wondering why a commercial pilot couldn’t simply obtain discount tickets so his family could fly to Walley World, well, he can. But then we’d be deprived of such detours as Memphis, Tenn. (accurate U.S. geography not included) to revisit Debbie’s drunken sorority days back when she was known as “Debbie Do-Anything.” A whitewater ride in the Rockies goes awry thanks to a manic depressive guide (Charlie Day). And when Rusty stops to visit sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her blow-dried husband (Chris Hemsworth) in Texas, we’re treated to cannibal cows and Hemsworth’s 6-pack and sheathed tube steak.

Along the way, writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein revisit the hot blond in a convertible scene from the original Vacation just to wreck it. It’s an apt metaphor for this risible reprise, which is low on satire and high on gross-out gags, beginning literally seconds into the crude opening credits montage. And let me be clear: profane children are never funny.

Indeed, whenever you hear Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road,” or Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo pop up for a shot of nostalgia, it comes with a weariness that causes you to momentarily question your affinity for the original National Lampoon’s Vacation.

It’s a bad sign when the funniest character in a comedy is the car—even The Love Bug had Buddy Hackett. The Griswolds’ fictional “Tartan Prancer,” known as “the Honda of Albania,” is a comically inconvenient MPV that has outside cup holders, a CB radio, retractable powers cords designed for corkscrew-shaped outlets, and two fuel tanks with half the gas mileage. The incoherent key fob with a dozen buttons emblazoned with unhelpful symbols like a rabbit, rocket ship, muffin and swastika.

More of this updated, whip smart humor would have helped this Vacation actually stand on its own. Instead, this road trip hits a dead end.