While the original “Vacation” (1983) may not have been the quintessential family comedy, the 2015 sequel aspires to be the polar opposite. Immediately embracing raunchy R-rated humor, the gags arrive swiftly and abrasively. And though some of the concepts are creative and evoke genuine laughs, the vast majority of the circumstances contrast caustically with the family unit. Patriarch Rusty Griswold endangers his wife and kids on numerous occasions with little regard or remorse, while mother Debbie indifferently engages in all manner of indecencies in plain view of her children. Even youngest boy Kevin barks obscenities for all to hear when he’s not physically and verbally abusing his mild-mannered older brother.
This newest generation of Griswolds has deteriorated into a monstrously dysfunctional household that bulldozes through scatterbrained activities with increasing detestableness. But it’s all just buffoonish jokes perpetrated by caricatured protagonists – and not purely revolting atrocities inappropriately carried out by contemptible people moving through an itinerary of abhorrent filth. Right?
Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) realizes his loved ones need a dose of adrenaline-pumping excitement to revitalize enthusiasm in their annual vacation. Forgoing their typical excursion to a dreary cabin in the woods, Rusty determines to drive his family across the country to renowned theme park “Walley World” – of which he has fond memories with his father Clark (Chevy Chase). Initially reluctant, Rusty’s wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) soon get on board with the idea to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. But it’s not long before everything that can go wrong does, forcing the Griswolds to contend with angry truckers, a goading sorority, an incessantly malfunctioning conveyance, and plenty more.
It begins with a skit on a plane, involving an inept pilot and the potential for some greatly offensive humor. Most of the following laughs are derived from situational gimmicks amplified by visually uncomfortable happenings – rather than wry conversations or comedy that will stick with audiences. Awkwardness in mundane activities, including desperate acts of fitting in, or a trod upon underdog pitted against musclebound hunks and bullying superiors, creates momentary amusement that immediately ends at the close of each scene. Clever running jokes and overarching themes entirely elude this part-sequel, part-remake, 100% unnecessary reboot.
As a cross-country road movie, the film does succeed in mocking stereotypes, family dynamics, and the fictional Tartan Prancer minivan (providing an extensive amount of physical and mechanical stunts) as crazier sides of humanity (and a marriage) are exposed under duress. Brotherly bonding, risqué romancing, petty pranking, and agonizing adventure all manage to digress into worst-case scenarios, choreographed and arranged like something out of a cartoon. As expected, plenty of realism is regularly sacrificed for random, unrelated jokes.
There’s also no real focus on a plot, though the film does work silliness and crassness into every set, succeeding now and again with nothing more than its breakneck pacing. Over time, however, the humor gradually resorts to repetition, homages, obvious reworkings, and edgier sexual content (which is the only major element to change up the concepts enough to represent a thread of individuality). It’s particularly unfortunate that an early, self-aware reference had to be made to the film’s originality and ability to remain independent from National Lampoon’s most famous entity, because everything following must take extra care not to appear completely derivative. In the end, this new “Vacation” does indeed stand on its own (though its intentions as a modernized rejuvenation over a standard continuation are substantial) – it’s just not that good.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)