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Vacation (2015) Movie Review

Vacation (2015) movie poster Vacation

Theatrical Release: July 29, 2015 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: R

Directors: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley / Writers: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein (screenplay); John Hughes (characters)

Cast: Ed Helms (Rusty Griswold), Christina Applegate (Debbie Griswold), Skyler Gisondo (James Griswold), Steele Stebbins (Kevin Griswold), Chris Hemsworth (Stone Crandall), Leslie Mann (Audrey Crandall), Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold), Beverly D'Angelo (Ellen Griswold), Charlie Day (Chad), Catherine Missal (Adena), Ron Livingston (Ethan), Norman Reedus (Trucker), Keegan-Michael Key (Jack Peterson), Regina Hall (Nancy Peterson), E'Myri Crutchfield (Sheila Peterson), Alkoya Brunson (Gary Peterson), Nick Kroll (Colorado Cop), Tim Heidecker (Utah Cop), Kaitlin Olson (Arizona Cop), Michael Peña (New Mexico Cop), Hannah Davis (Ferrari Girl), David Clennon (Harry Co-Pilot), Colin Hanks (Jake)

 

Given the enduring popularity of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, it's a little surprising the comedy film franchise has mostly languished in the decades since. There are probably two main reasons for that. First of all, more people probably enjoy that 1989 movie as a holiday tradition than as a threequel. Then there is the fact that 1997's Vegas Vacation put a damper on things with its soft performance and cool reception.
Since then, the series has only added 2003's made-for-TV National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure, something few have seen and far fewer have liked, plus a TV ad and online short for a vacation rental company.

Still, this is Hollywood, where time heals all wounds and no successful idea is ever forgotten. Thus, here is Vacation, a sequel whose terse title also indicates it is something of a reboot. It isn't too far off base to categorize this as a remake, either, of the original 1983 film National Lampoon's Vacation. The incomparable John Hughes, who wrote that screenplay, the short story on which it was based, and the first two sequels, and the accomplished Harold Ramis, who directed the first film, have both sadly passed away before their time. Trying to fill those giant shoes on this, their directorial debut, are Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, a duo that has written Horrible Bosses, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Appropriately enough for a new generation's Vacation, our patriarch this time around is Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), the male one of the always-recast, perpetually-teenaged children of Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo). Rusty, a mild-mannered pilot for a Chicago-based economy airline, is married to Debbie (Christina Applegate). They have two children: James (Skyler Gisondo), a sensitive soul in his awkward teen years, and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), the foul-mouthed younger brother who bullies him.

2015's "Vacation" brings Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and family (Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins) to the San Francisco B & B of his parents Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo).

Overhearing Debbie's less than glowing description of the family's annual trip to a cabin in Cheboygan, Rusty decides to mix things up this summer with a road trip to Walley World. Yes, that fictional California amusement park is not only still in business but evidently flourishing, having just unveiled a popular new Velociraptor rollercoaster. Nonetheless, Dad is the only one truly excited for a family vacation there. He rents a bright blue monstrosity to rival the metallic pea station wagon used on the original trip. The Albanian minivan has two gas tanks, multiple non-retractible electrical cords that seem universally incompatible, and a GPS that gets stuck on a hostile Korean voice. Let the misadventures begin!

Wisely, this Vacation doesn't set out to recreate the original movie's beats, inventing all-new episodes for the Griswolds to embarrass themselves on. Debbie tries to show up the bitchy girls at her old "Memphis State" soriority by participating in the drunken obstacle course she created decades ago. In between insults and suffocation attempts from Kevin, James has his eye caught by a girl in a red Jeep with whom his family's path keeps crossing (Catherine Missal). There is a visit to Aunt Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her rugged Republican cowboy/meteorologist husband (Chris Hemsworth) in Texas. There are also car problems, hot springs that are not what they seem, and a brief, relatively uneventful but welcome appearance by Clark and Ellen, who are now running a B & B in San Francisco.

The Vacation series softened with time, from the R-rated original to two PG-13 sequels to the mild Vegas Vacation receiving only a PG. The newest Vacation restores the original film's edge and then some. It's a hard-R, as have been many of the most lucrative comedies of our time, including Judd Apatow's movies and Todd Phillips' Hangover trilogy. The new Vacation recalls the latter as well as Goldstein and Daley's Horrible Bosses series and the kindred 2013 hit We're the Millers. This film has personnel, a distributor, and a sense of humor in common with all of those movies. It may not get as dark as them, but it still makes room for jokes about pedophiles, pubic hair, penises, rapists, and rimjobs.

A stop in Texas sees Rusty (Ed Helms) wearing the cast-off cowboy clothes of Audrey's handsome husband Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth). "Vacation" is the fifth movie to feature Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo in the roles of Clark and Ellen Griswold.

The crude content will be too much for some to handle, including those who know and love past Vacation installments from their frequent, sanitized network and cable TV airings. But the material is generally pretty diverting.
And for how vulgar it is willing to get, the movie never loses its ability to get kind of serious and even sweet about the family's problems and dynamics. Squeezing some marital malaise bits into this kind of a romp is not an easy thing to do, but Goldstein and Daley manage to pull it off without prompting eye rolls abound.

There are plenty of amusing moments throughout, from the opening titles' use of AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com images to some winky play with the fourth wall comparing this vacation to "the original vacation." There are also a decent number of nods to past installments, mostly the original that this one's plot most closely resembles (Optimistic yet hopeless, Rusty is basically the new Clark). The sight of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster drew an audible reaction from the theater, making me glad I had chosen to rewatch the first -- and, by far, best -- Vacation on the morning before my screening.

People who view this new chapter as a violation of their childhood will be able to leave this screening with that overdramatic stance intact. But an open mind and a taste for today's increasingly ribald humor should be enough for fans to appreciate this as a new generation's reasonably faithful take on a charming and iconic comedy tradition.

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From the Writers/Directors: Horrible Bosses • Horrible Bosses 2 • The Incredible Burt Wonderstone • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Planes, Trains & Automobiles • Due Date • Road Trip • Grown Ups • The Guilt Trip • A Merry Friggin' Christmas
Ed Helms: We're the Millers • The Hangover • Cedar Rapids • Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Christina Applegate: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy • Going the Distance • Hall Pass • Samantha Who? The Complete First Season
Chris Hemsworth: The Cabin in the Woods • Thor | Leslie Mann: Knocked Up • 17 Again | Skyler Gisondo: Four Christmases

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Reviewed July 29, 2015.



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