The Griswold family get a new coat of paint (and a suitably horrifying car) as Vacation – part sequel, part remake – gives us another mishap-laden cross-country holiday farce.
In many ways Vacation lives up to every expectation. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much. In an era of remakes masquerading as sequels (the biggest recent offender being Jurassic World), this attempt to bring renewed energy and a contemporary post-Apatow crudity to a comedy franchise that died in Vegas in 1997 (otherwise known as the fourth film in the series) actually achieves its self-made goals. But it does so with the unfortunate pomposity of two TV writer-directors given the keys to a much-loved Hollywood comic classic, an impotent nostalgia seeing them gluing together sketches with a hollow heart.
Comparisons with the original 1983 film are unavoidable, particularly because the filmmaking team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley readily reference it. However, for anyone who still remembers Chevy Chase’s bumbling dad sticking his family into the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and trekking off across country, there’s a saddening realisation: it appears the progress we have made in the thirty-odd years since is the ability to projectile vomit and the elimination of brain cells.
For example, the subtly of the scene in Harold Ramis’ original involving two teenage boys discovering the delights of adult magazines without ever uttering the words masturbation or pornography is gone in 2015. Now we have a dad telling his son he wants to give him a “rim job” at a public hot tub, a swim in raw sewerage, and flavour-of-the-week Chris Hemsworth parading around in tight underpants displaying an oversized male appendage.
That’s not to say I didn’t laugh a number of times. With a scattershot delivery of gags, a few unsurprisingly land. If Goldstein and Daley are to be commended for anything it’s the sheer volume of slapstick they pack into the film’s 100 minute runtime. It’ll certainly work for those that like an assortment of vulgar humour while the pace at which the film delivers its comedy ensures if one joke fails, another is around the corner to make up for it.
The flipside is the directionless nature of proceedings. There really is no plot. Hampered by the writers’ experience in TV, the film is, undoubtedly, a series of sketches hung together by the journey the characters take across country. There is nothing organic about the events that take place or the development of the characters. Most disappointingly there is a distinct lack of warmth towards the family unit that made the original film such a joy; instead of lampooning typical white, middle-class familial hang-ups, we’re subjected to a tirade of punches smashing the idea into the ground. Indeed, this family, constructed in the “writers’ room”, has no chemistry.
Exampled by Rusty (Ed Helms) and wife Debbie (Christina Applegate), two actors perfectly at home with this type of material are nevertheless at odds as a couple. The fact that sex seems to have lost its spark is less surprising than their awkward attempts to reignite the passion. The clunky delivery doesn’t stop here: the phoned-in cameos seem to be friends returning a favour while Chevy Chase’s appearance feels like dusting off an old music cassette and finding it doesn’t work anymore. This Vacation is one trip I’d rather not take again.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase
Released: 2015 / Genre: Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB
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Vacation is out NOW on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.