A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Produced By: David Dobkin, Chris Bender
Written By: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth
Running Time: 99 Minutes
One of the most iconic comedic families in film, The Griswolds have entertained us time and time again over the years, chaotically venturing across the wide open road and surviving the stressful festive period. With unmatchable, natural qualities on display by the irreplaceable Chevy Chase in peak form, The National Lampoon’s series remain timeless and fun for the whole family. In an era where reboots and sequels are commonplace, it was an inevitability that the Griswolds would resurface and venture off once again, particularly in light of Chase’s return to the spotlight in shows such as Community. When making a comedy sequel, unless one is to strike while the iron is hot, it’s very difficult to capture exactly what was so special from the yesteryear. What is even more difficult is attempting to introduce an entirely new audience to something they may or may never have heard of such as National Lampoon’s.
With the announcement of Vacation going more or less unnoticed right up until its release (where it remained unnoticed), there wasn’t much excitement about the next generation of antics from the Griswolds. What has been produced is anything but a National Lampoon’s film; more a dark, awkward, poor attempt at burning the candle at both ends with the intent on keeping with the original style, whilst placing a modern spin over the top. Something has burned, but not what the producers would’ve had in mind…
Ed Helms plays present-day Rusty Griswold, an economy airline pilot intent on adding some excitement to his life and reigniting relationships with his family all the same. Jealous of seeing another, more privileged family vacate to Paris, Rusty decides to change things up and elect not to travel Michigan (an annual tradition) but road trip to Walley World, a theme park located on the other side of the country. What ensues is a series of frolicking mayhem that doesn’t know when to stop, becoming gratuitous all too quickly and signalling to the audience that the writers have not been able to come remotely close in emulating the original quirkiness and whit.
Along for the ride are wife Debbie (Chrisitna Applegate) and sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Each character has their own idiosyncrasies that present themselves as the film chugs along, however as a family, the new-look Griswolds are anything but investable. The sons are irritating and insufferable beyond compare (particularly Kevin), whilst Applegate doesn’t deviate far from her stern-but-reckless persona from 2004’s Anchorman, offering up nothing new as a result.
Also in the mix are half the cast of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth, all of whom produce type-cast and predictable performances that offer sporadic chuckles at best.
Where the originals worked so well was in the effortless charm, endearing nature of the characters and the magnificent leading performances from Chevy Chase. Although Ed Helms tries his best to encapsulate the ignorance, naivety and spirit of Chase, he misses the mark and unfortunately ends up appearing to be playing a slightly more upbeat version of his former character, Stu from The Hangover.
The situations the family find themselves in are rather humorous, however as they play out, the enjoyability factor begins to lessen and lessen quite rapidly. An attempt at a cheap laugh sees little brother Kevin repeatedly strangle his older brother with a plastic bag; a severely lethal device which is not funny in the slightest.
Furthermore, the expletive language has been amped up to suit modern, desensitised audiences, however that fails to tie in with the original films, which only included cursing where completely necessary and beneficial for the context.
There is however, a recurring gag that appears to be a homage to Steven Spielberg’s Duel which is particularly funny and clever, however for those who are unfamiliar with Spielberg’s debut feature, it may go straight over their heads.
All in all, Vacation is anything but a highlight to emerge from 2015, let alone the comedy genre. Mostly unfunny, misfiring and downright offensive at points, the attempt at a successful reboot has only proven that it’s a near-impossibility to achieve the same level of comedic greatness some thirty years on.
Although the film is peppered with the occasional laugh, it is nowhere near enough to be considered a comedic success and not a shameless cash grab. With plenty of examples to prove this, we should have found this out long ago.
It is definitely time for the series to take a vacation…and never return.