I’ve never intentionally sat down to watch a National Lampoon’s Vacation movie (aside from the holiday classic, Christmas Vacation) but have still probably seen all of them in chunks over the years, catching bits and pieces during cable TV marathons.
The Vacation movies are almost meant to be watched that way; the plot inevitably revolves around a hapless Griswold vacation gone awry, with the jokes and gags playing like small skits that add up to a full movie. This works well for the times you turn on the TV and have 20 minutes or so to kill. The Vacation movies hold your interest for that long, give you a couple of chuckles, and can be easily left once whatever you’ve been waiting for is ready.
The rebooted continuation of the series, simply entitled Vacation, follows that same formula while utilizing humor that’s far cruder and meaner than the older outings. The film follows Rusty Griswold (Clark Griswold’s son, this time played by Ed Helms) as he drags his family (Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo and a very potty mouthed Steele Stebbins) across the country in an attempt to recreate the idealized vacations of his youth. (Why those vacations are idealized, given the events in the previous films, is beyond me.)
As anyone familiar with the series might expect, things go wrong in many ways during the family’s trek across the US. Some parts are funny and some are not; some jokes are predictable, others are not. What does it all add up to? Perhaps not surprisingly - a movie that might be better enjoyed viewing it in multiple 20 minute windows rather than sitting through it all at once.
While Vacation seems to be striving for zaniness, it is simply not as inspired as it should be and therefore frequently feels more contrived than anything else. This is especially true when sitting through some of the more predictable jokes in the movie; these moments are wasted opportunities for sharp and inspired humor rather than the flat and predictable payoffs that play out on screen (such is the case during many of the movie’s numerous cameos). This is why the movie may play out better watching it sporadically in parts rather than sitting through the whole thing at once; the flaws are likely less apparent that way.
While the jokes are hit and miss, they are consistently a lot nastier in tone and content than I remember from the older Vacation movies. For example, Rusty’s youngest son has a very foul mouth that is used often to elicit laughs (because what’s funnier than a young kid swearing profusely, right?) and consistently bullies his bigger and more sensitive older brother. Another example is the various points in the movie where people are killed to serve as punchlines to jokes, the comedic equivalent of a cheap jump-scare in a bad horror movie.
In addition to the coarser humor, the film has a lot more gross-out humor as the Griswold family is subjected to all sorts of sordid and disgusting situations. The types of jokes I found to be funny in the older Vacation movies are seldom seen this time around as crude and rude has replaced eccentricity and wit. Rather than being a National Lampoon’s Vacation, this outing could be more properly characterized as Judd Apatow’s Vacation.
If that’s your kind of humor, you’ll find a lot to laugh about in Vacation. If not, you might find yourself laughing sporadically but not as often as a comedy should. The film doesn’t do much new and original nor does it do much to recreate the past; instead, Vacation is merely a missed opportunity that is content to simply fit in with the times and be a standard studio comedy.
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