Vacation (2015)

Vacation (2015)
  • Time: 99 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Comedy
  • Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
  • Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chevy Chase, Skyler Gisondo, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann


Hoping to bring his family closer together and to recreate his childhood vacation for his own kids, an adult Rusty Griswold takes his wife and two sons on a cross-country road trip to Walley World. Needless to say, things don’t go quite as planned.


  • In National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his family to Wally World and the journey is shall we say, shambolic. Thirty-two years later, we get Clark’s grown-up son (played by Ed Helms) taking that same journey in Vacation (my latest review). This is comedy touted as a generational gap moment. And yet, it still feels like a remake, a same same blueprint of laughs that are forced and fantasized. No matter. In between moments of mild humor and hit-or-miss gags, what’s on screen is hella funny. You get to experience a vaca that has movie R & R written all over it.

    Now for all you facetious aficionados, Vacation has sequences where characters bathe in raw sewage, hang upside down in a roller coaster (that’s where it stops), try to erase penis-shaped graffiti on the passenger side of their car, and run into a cow rendering it nothing but obliterated blood and guts. I laughed out loud heartily but remembered something even before the opening credits rolled (which are more offensive than what’s in all of the previous Lampoon installments combined). I thought to myself, isn’t the mantra of Rusty supposed to be smarter and less of a nincompoop than his dad. At least that’s what I picked up with Anthony Micheal Hall, Johnny Galecki, and Jason lively (from Vacations 1, 2, and 3). Ed Helms (mentioned earlier) plays the adult version here. He’s an appealing actor, he’s goofy and likable (all you gotta do is look at the guy), and basically he’s Ed Helms playing well, Ed Helms. Is this how middle age Russ would act? Based on the previous four flicks (six if you count two that are direct-to-video), probably not. Bottom line: I liked Vacation and I’m actually gonna recommend it (God help me). But I feel it could have been even more effective if it was a straight up remake of 1983’s monster hit. You get a funny actor to reprise the Chevy Chase role, a blond, bombshell actress to reprise Beverly D’Angelo’s Ellen Griswold and so on, and so on. The director yells action, the cameras roll, and everyone freely lets it rip. Just a random thought.

    Anyway, 2015’s Vacation tries to up the ante over all of its predecessors. It does this in terms of vacated grossness, vulgarity, and crass indignation. Two side players even suffer heinous deaths which is something I don’t think I ever saw in the Christmas installment from 89′, the Vegas stint from 97′, and European Vacation (no dying here. A dog falls from the Eiffel Tower and survives without so much as a scratch). Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein really want to push the envelope. Proof of this can easily be traced back to the forty-five minute mark involving co-star Chris Hemsworth (he plays Stone Crandall, Rusty’s well hung brother-in-law). Just revert to Mark Wahlberg’s underwear sequence in 1997’s Boogie Nights and that will give you a clue.

    The story of course, begins in Chicago, Illinois. And if you live in the windy city (like I do), you’ll be annoyed by how certain characters get around in their respective automobiles (residents in Chi-town don’t drive past the The Chicago Theatre then drive north by Wrigley field in or order to venture to Southern California). Russell “Rusty” Griswold (Helms) is a family man and a pilot for a second rate airline named Econo-Air (they do those mini flights from Chicagoland to South Bend, Indiana). He takes this job so he can spend a little more time with his family. He has two sons (the younger one is the bully, who’d thunk it), a marriage that seems on the outs, and a log cabin (in Michigan) where his clan goes for summer vacation. When he senses that his better half (Debbie Griswold played by Christina Applegate) is bored in said vacation pics, well Russell decides to quote unquote, “shake things up a bit”. He wants to relive his childhood memories so he takes his family to the Wally World theme park. This expedition involves a similar blueprint akin to 1983’s original. They drive through Missouri (check), stop at a strange relatives house (check), get lost and stranded in the desert (check), have uncomfortable moments in rundown hotel (check), and pass by the Grand Canyon (quintuple check). Chaos and high jinks ensue because the Griswold apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. There’s a scene where Debbie and Russ decide to have unsuccessful, sneak away sex via the borderline of four states. Spicy.

    In conclusion, you can enjoy this thing provided you go into it with the lowest of expectations. Truth be told, I viewed the trailer a month ago and figured 2015’s Vacation had almost no affiliation with the other vehicles in this long running, Warner Bros. franchise. Boy was I wrong. As a new installment with the Griswolds of a new generation (I loved the family that was cast here, especially Applegate), it has the feel of all things Lampoon. And it doesn’t hurt that an extended, Chevy Chase cameo makes the proceedings that more authentic.

    In addition to Chase, you get some other jocular and rather interesting guest appearances as well. Norman Reedus plays a trucker and alleged pedophile, Charlie Rich checks in as a manic rafting instructor, and Ron Livingston channels an asshat tycoon of a major 747 airline. And in case your wondering about Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” being played on Vacation’s eclectic soundtrack, well don’t worry. Thirty-plus years later and it’s still in there. Here’s my rating: A harmless three stars.

    Of note: In 1983, Clark and Ellen’s married couple try to get their kids to sing “Mockingbird” by James Taylor and Carly Simon. Now in 2015, Russell tries to get his kids to belt out Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”. If you decide to take in a viewing, you probably won’t be able to get that song out of your head.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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  • Torturous, mean-spirited and deeply unfunny, there is no reason in the world that Vacation should have ever been made or allowed to see the light of day.

    The original 1983 film was the brainchild of the late and lamented John Hughes, who based it on his National Lampoon short story, “Vacation ‘ 58.” The film tracked the misadventures of the Griswold family – idealistic but hapless dad Clark (Chevy Chase), eternally patient mom Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and constantly bickering siblings Rusty and Audrey – during their cross-country pilgrimage to the fictional amusement park Walley World. Directed by Harold Ramis, Vacation was aspirational family drama as screwball comedy. The more Clark insisted on happiness, the more miserable his family became.

    Hughes, Ramis and Chase were in the midst of their creative glory at the time. Screenwriters and first-time directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who should be stripped of any goodwill he acquired for starring in Freaks and Geeks for his work here) are nowhere in the league of Hughes and Ramis. Ed Helms, who headlines the new film as the grown-up Rusty, barely acquits himself from this execrable mess of a movie. The problem may be the focus on Rusty’s attempt to recreate his childhood road trip in the hopes of making his long-suffering wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) happy and getting in some quality time with his sons, sensitive soul James (Skyler Gisondo) and budding homicidal psychopath Kevin (Steele Stebbins). The family is not exactly enthused. “Won’t it be a letdown?” Debbie says, but Rusty insists their trip will be different, it’ll stand on its own.

    Yes, it stands on its own as a hugely terrible, shoddily executed example of how movies are not mere formulas. Think of Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which failed to generate the creeping suspense of the original. There’s something ineffable, something indefinable that people like Hitchcock and Hughes and Ramis add to the mix, a magic dust for which there is no recipe. Vacation recreates the episodic nature of the first film as well as several scenes such as a hot girl (Christie Brinkley then, Hannah Davis now) in a hot car flirting with the family man, but there is no spark. Even the reprise of Lindsey Buckingham’s infectious song “Holiday Road” doesn’t rouse as it should.

    Most of the alleged jokes revolve around paedophilia, gender fluidity, attempted asphyxiation, car crashes, or the angry Korean that voices the GPS. All fall wretchedly flat. Cameos abound – Colin Hanks! Keegan-Michael Key! Charlie Day! Norman Reedus! – but their efforts are all for naught. There is simply no laughter to be had. Applegate arguably gets the worst of it; there is something so demeaning about seeing such a gifted comedic actress work with such poor material. The original filmmakers were not above putting their characters through humiliations but there was an obvious affection for the Griswolds’ dysfunctionality. Beneath it all, they loved each other and we loved them for it. There’s no such fondness for Rusty and his lot, who are put in one crass situation after another just for the sake of a potential cheap laugh.

    Rusty and company also drop in on Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her husband Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth), a vainglorious TV weatherman whose Adonis good looks and rippling physique get Debbie hot and bothered and Rusty feeling like an even lesser man than he already believes himself to be. Mann and Hemsworth don’t exactly have better material to work with, but their characters may have made for a more intriguing look at how the brightest of smiles can mask the darkest of distresses. The chipper desperation with which Mann’s Audrey endeavours to get Stone’s permission to let her work again is something to behold. Theirs is a vacation I’d like to witness.

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