Movie Review: “Vacation”

Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Ron Livingston
John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein

There’s been an overwhelming sense of nostalgia at theaters this summer, with films like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Jurassic World” and “Terminator Genisys” all reviving decades-old franchises on the big screen, and “Vacation” continues that trend with the latest installment in the National Lampoon series that began with Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and a rotating door of actors playing their two kids. Though it isn’t technically a reboot, despite sharing its title with the 1983 original, writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein address the issue head-on by conceding that while there are similarities to the first movie, the 2015 edition stands on its own. Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case, because it’s basically just a raunchier, less funny rehash of the Harold Ramis/John Hughes classic that lacks its predecessor’s charm and heart.

All grown up and with a family of his own, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) has remained in the Chicago area working as a pilot for a second-rate regional airline so that he can be close to his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). When he realizes that the family’s annual vacation to the same boring cabin in Michigan is in desperate need of a little shakeup, he finds inspiration from his own childhood and plans a cross-country road trip to Walley World in the hope that it’ll bring the family closer together. But just like his vacation to America’s favorite family fun park as a kid, things don’t go exactly as planned, as the Griswolds must contend with thieving rednecks, psychotic truck drivers and their own extended family.

Though the original “Vacation” featured more than its share of lowbrow comedy, a lot of the humor in this movie is embarrassingly dumb, including a running gag about an Albanian-made rental SUV that’s loaded with silly amenities no one would ever need and a GPS system that gets stuck on the Korean language setting, because apparently a Korean man shouting directions is what passes for comedy these days. Nothing that happens in this film makes a shred of sense, while the Griswolds themselves are so incredibly naïve that it’s a miracle they’re able to function in their daily lives. Rusty is probably the worst of the bunch (and Ed Helms’ goody two-shoes shtick only exacerbates the idiocy of the character), but the two kids are just as annoying. James is a scrawny nerd who allows himself to get bullied by his younger brother for no other reason than because the writers thought it would be funny to see a little kid beat up on someone twice his size, while Kevin is a sociopathic brat in need of some old-school parenting. But don’t worry, because the jokes he makes about murdering his brother are all in good fun!

The Griswolds are such miserable company that it’s hard to recall a single laugh in the movie earned by anyone in the family, and that includes Leslie Mann, who makes a brief appearance as Rusty’s sister, Audrey. Fortunately, the supporting cast steps up to save the film from being a complete waste of time. Chris Hemsworth (as Audrey’s macho Texan husband) and Charlie Day (as a suicidal Grand Canyon rafting guide) are both funny in their respective roles, while a scene involving a standoff between the different state police officers in charge of patrolling the Four Corners Monument is the funniest bit in the entire movie thanks to some inspired cameos.

Still, despite a few really big laughs in the film’s much-improved second half as the Griswolds interact with the various characters that they meet on the road, it hardly makes up for the sheer stupidity on display in the rest of the movie. “Vacation” goes for the cheap and easy joke every time, and though some work well, most of them are so lame that it’ll make you wish the franchise stayed dead after 1997’s “Vegas Vacation.” And judging by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo’s halfhearted (and in the latter’s case, insultingly derisory) cameos, it’s safe to say they feel the same way.