Since this is yet another new movie made to be a callback to an earlier film widely regarded as a classic, I have an idea. Let’s go into a movie like Vacation as if it were a standalone feature. Let’s take all the imagery, references, and callbacks that it makes to its predecessor, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and put all of them on a shelf. How would this movie fare if it were being sold with the Griswold name attached to it? Can we survive this Vacation?
Rusty Griswold is all grown up, working as a pilot for a small airline company, and finally has a family of his own. But he’s stuck in a rut. His younger son constantly torments his older brother and his relationship with his wife is starting to feel strained as well. So it’s no surprise that when his neighbors bring up the positivity of their recent vacation, Rusty decides that it’s time for his family to pile into a bizarre looking rental car and road trip to that fabled place on the west coast, Wally World.
This movie… has some problems.
Aside from a few brief moments that managed to erupt a full laugh out of me, the rest of this movie weaves an awkward web of mediocre laughs that range from the usual scatological and vulgar to truly mean-spirited or insulting. Vacation tries to distance itself from the fact that it’s a cynical cash-grab comedy by coming right out in a meta-textual joke about how their doing the same thing they did thirty years ago but slightly different, but beyond that doesn’t ever try to rise above the laziest kind of low-brow humor. The jokes that do work are few and far between.
Though harsh, it seems like Vacation is almost scared to be a good movie. Whenever it gets to a genuinely funny joke that isn’t based solely on vulgarity, it’s always quick to rush forward right back into over-the-top scat humor. Diving into a hot spring that turns out to be a human waste disposal site? Laughs drawn from physical assault and unwarranted sexual aggression? Casual racism that keeps popping up through the movie? If that sounds like your kind of movie, get back in your time machine because you’re from 1997.
There are some bright spots in this movie. The car they rent to go on this road trip is a minivan from hell, complete with automatic doors and exploding windows. There are a few cameos, including Charlie Day as a volatile boating instructor. Despite not getting much to do besides being the Norse god of handsomeness, Chris Hemsworth isn’t just phoning in his small role as Rusty’s brother-in-law. But that’s a small amount of meat to carve from the gristle. The Griswolds just move from one set piece to the next with little in the way of connecting tissue, and no sense that this all isn’t going exactly where you expect it to. Of course it’s a road trip movie, you know exactly where they want to wind up, but the movie is in how they get there. As it stands, Vacation doesn’t even try to make anything out of its premise other than fodder for a lowest common denominator audience.
Despite the big name actors and large theatrical release, it was hard to differentiate this from the plethora of straight-to-DVD nonsense that gets peddled with National Lampoon’s name in five dollar movie bins with copies of Transmorphers and American Pie Presents Band Camp.
Vacation Premieres Saturday, March 26 at 8 pm on HBO!