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Review: Vacation (2015)

Vacation (2015)

Directed by: John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

Premise: A remake of the 1983 film. Now grown up with a family of his own, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) takes his wife and kids on a road trip to the Walley World amusement park.

What Works: Like Terminator Genisys and Jurassic World, Vacation is yet another example of the soft-reboot: a film that follows in sequence with earlier pictures but for all intents and purposes restarts a movie franchise. The links between the new film and the 1983 Vacation are done pretty well. For viewers who grew up watching the films of the 1980s, there are a handful of nods to the original film, including a cameo by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. The new film does not overdo the callbacks or overplay the nostalgia and viewers who came up after the original Vacation series won’t feel like the movie is going over their heads. The new Vacation was written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein and the filmmakers smartly use the original film to justify the existence of the new one. Looking back nostalgically on his youth (in much the same way that older viewers may feel about the original Vacation), Rusty attempts to recreate the fond memories of his childhood with his own family. The casting of the Griswold family is quite good. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are likable enough as a married couple. Their hijinks aren’t very inspired but their more downbeat scenes play credibly. Much of the best material in Vacation comes from the brothers played by Steele Stebbins and Skyler Gisondo. Inverting the usual sibling rivalry, the foul mouthed younger brother terrorizes his older brother. Stebbins and Gisondo are the source of most of the laughs in this movie, which are precious few.

What Doesn’t: For viewers watching Vacation in its theatrical release, the movie is going to be especially disappointing. The trailer already revealed most of the best gags of the picture and nothing in the advertising campaign was exactly comedy gold. In fact, aside from its setup, nothing in the 2015 Vacation is especially funny or clever. Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold as basically the same role he played in The Hangover trilogy and Cedar Rapids, that of the earnest but naïve beta male. When Helms works in that kind of character it’s usually because he is surrounded by wild and crazy people against which he is the voice of sanity. In Vacation he’s surrounded by his wife and two kids and they don’t create the same kind of comic opportunities. Like a lot of contemporary comedy films, the new Vacation is bereft of inspiration and it always resorts to the obvious. There is nothing in it that is unexpected, which is the key to comedy. The lack of inventiveness in the film is highlighted by comparing it to 1983’s Vacation. The original film was written by John Hughes, who would go on to make films like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Hughes had an understanding of white, middle class suburban life that was witty and insightful. The original Vacation was also part of the trend of subversive comedies from the late 1970s and early 80s that had an anarchic glee as seen in Animal House and Caddyshack. The new Vacation has neither the wit of John Hughes nor the lawless spirit of old school National Lampoon. It has nothing to say about families or vacations in the twenty-first century and everything about it is tame. That’s a shame since the self-aware set up of the new Vacation movie primed it to be a comic critique of nostalgia for the 1980s. Had the movie explored that it could have been a satirical gold mine. But like a lot of remakes and reboots the new Vacation exists less as a continuation of a story or a revision of an idea and more as a way to capitalize on a brand name.

Bottom Line: The Vacation remake is not very funny and it pales in comparison to the original film. The cast is quite good and they could have been marshalled into a better movie but the film wastes them on a bland and uninspired script.

Episode: #554 (August 9, 2015)