“Vacation” is not as bad a movie as you’d probably expect it to be. But it isn’t as funny as it should be either. The reboot of the “Vacation” series, which began in 1983 and starred Chevy Chase as well-meaning patriarch Clark Griswold, is a comedy that has many gags that are funny in the moment, but just aren’t that memorable after leaving the theater.
This new installment follows Clark’s now grown son Rusty (Ed Helms), a pilot for a budget airline who has a family of his own. In an effort to escape routine and bring his family closer together, Rusty decides to recreate his childhood cross-country trip to Wally World. He rents an Albanian van (all of its mysterious features are mined for laughs throughout the film), and sets off with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two sons: James (Skyler Gisondo), the sensitive older boy, and his bullying younger brother Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Of course, absolutely nothing goes as planned. Their road trip includes a stop at a hot spring that turns out to be sewage, a drunken obstacle course at Debbie’s old sorority, and a visit to Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann). Audrey is now married to Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth), a successful weatherman/cowboy who is about Rusty’s better in every way.
As Rusty straightforwardly declares toward the beginning of the movie, this “Vacation” will stand on its own. And it does. There’s no need to be familiar with the original “Vacation” to comprehend this movie—not that it’s so complicated that there would ever be any doubt as to what’s going on. However, there are many references to the original series to please fans. Its signature song “Holiday Road” is heard over the opening credits and a few more times throughout the movie, while Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo themselves make a brief appearance portraying their characters Clark and Ellen, who now run a bed-and-breakfast in San Francisco. Even Clark’s old station wagon gets a cameo.
Unfortunately, this “Vacation” is not as memorable as the series’ two best installments, the 1983 “Vacation” and the classic “Christmas Vacation”. Too many of the gags rely on gross-out humor. Expect excessive vomiting, bathing in human waste, mysterious substances in hotel bathrooms, etc. There are, however, a lot of jokes that do get some good laughs, at least in the moment. For instance, there’s the sequence in which Rusty tries to be James’ wingman when he meets a girl at a motel, but inadvertently creates an awkward situation; when, stranded in the middle of the desert, Rusty repeatedly kicks tumbleweeds, only to find there’s a giant rock or fire hydrant beneath it; and when they embark on a river rapid excursion through the Grand Canyon, with a suicidal guide (played by Charlie Day) whose fiancée has just called off their engagement. While much of the film’s thin plot involves going from one episode to the next, there are some running gags, like, as mentioned before, the weird Albanian van malfunctioning, and that of a truck driver constantly pursuing them because Kevin called him a rapist over the radio—or at least that’s why they think he’s pursuing them.
None of those things sound particularly humorous to describe, but they are actually funny, thanks in large part to the cast, who do the best they can with the material. Helms is very good at playing a guy who appears nice, but has a psychotic side simmering just below the surface. Applegate is good as his wife, who’s tries to be patient but really just wants to go to Paris like all her friends, while Gisondo and Stebbins are funny as the two boys. Despite some other amusing cameos, it’s Hemsworth who steals the show, filling the void left by Clark’s gross cousin Eddy.
Most of the film’s attempts at trying to be heartfelt fall flat, however. Debbie, who believes their marriage may be failing, is too easily reconciled with Rusty, who in the end gives her what she wanted all along anyway. And, as raunchy as a lot of the humor is, there are times when the situations could have been pushed even farther. The climax is rather disappointing, for example. Whereas Clark would have had a huge, ridiculous, full-scale meltdown resulting in some wacky shenanigans, Rusty remains rather calm in comparison. What could have been an opportunity to make this movie stand out in the crowd of other gross R-rated movies is missed entirely.
“Vacation” is a stupid movie, but it’s a stupid movie that you’ll probably laugh at regardless. Just don’t expect it to hold up like the original—this is one road trip you won’t remember going on.
Runtime: 99 minutes. Rated R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre