Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ed Helms Helms New Slightly Amusing VACATION Reboot/Sequel

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

VACATION (Dirs. John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein, 2015)

ve never even heard of the original vacation,” protests James Griswold (Skyler Gisondo), when his father Rusty (Ed Helms) pitches to his family that they should drive cross-country to Walley World just like he did with his parents and sister over 30 years ago.

“It doesn’t matter. The new vacation will stand on its own.” Helm’s Rusty declares, but despite that being a solid meta joke, sadly it’s not true. This new reboot/sequel contains so many call backs to the original VACATION that there’s no way to forget it at any point during this film’s 99 minute running time. Queue Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” and we’re off!

For the fifth film in the VACATION franchise (there’s also a TV movie, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION 2, and a 14 minute short film, HOTEL HELL VACATION, but let’s not count those), Helms and Christina Applegate as his wife Debbie take over from Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the next generation of Griswolds to make the hellacious trek to the fictional theme park, and I give major kudos for that excellent casting.

Continuing on the meta joke above, Rusty says: “My vacation had a boy and a girl. This one has two boys. And I’m sure there will be plenty of other differences.” Those two boys are Skyler Gisondo as the sensitive, guitar playing James, and Steele Stebbons as the foul mouthed bullying younger brother Kevin. The comic premise that the younger, much smaller brother bullies the older one isn’t as funny as the filmmakers think it is, and it joins many jokes here in that regard.

Remember the Wagon Queen Family Truckster Station Wagon in the first one? Well, this time the Griswolds are driving an Albanian rental minivan called The Tartan Prancer loaded with confusing features (its key device has a bunch of buttons with inexplicable symbols on them, including a swastika). And that’s one of the better running gags.

But just like Chase and D’Angelo who both put in welcome cameo appearances reprising their iconic roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold now as owners of a bed and breakfast in San Fransisco, don’t count the Family Truckster out – it too shows up. Sadly, despite a passing reference to Cousin Eddie, Randy Quaid is nowhere to be seen. That alone would’ve taken this to the next level.

I did chuckle a lot throughout this new VACATION – I lightly laughed at a scene where they visited Applegate’s old college sorority in Memphis and it’s revealed that she used to be a wild party girl (“Debbie Do Anything”), I snickered a bit at Helms trying to get his family into a car sing along of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose,” and I came the closest to actual audible laughter when Charlie Day of It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia popped up as a rafting guide who starts out all super positive but then gets suicidal when his fiancée breaks up with him over the phone.

It’s essentially and predictably a series of farcical road trip sketches, some of which more match the crude cringe comedy tone of recent fare like WE’RE THE MILLERS or IDENTITY THIEF than the more relatable vibe of the VACATION movies I knew as a kid back when they were still under the National Lampoon banner.

And I wasn’t really into the sequence where they stay with Rusty’s sister, now played by Leslie Mann, who’s married to Chris Hemsworth (THOR) as “up and coming anchorman.” Helms being threatened by Applegate’s attraction to Hemsworth is clumsily handled, and Mann is barely given anything to do.

I also disliked the callback to Christie Brinkley's role as 
“The Girl in the Red Ferrari” who flirted with Chase in VACATION '83, in which up and coming supermodel Hannah Davis fills in as “Ferrari Girl” to flirt with Helms, but has an especially crude and unfunny fate. 

But overall writer/directors Daley and Goldstein have largely captured the endearingly lowbrow spirit of the famously hapless Griswold family’s “quest for fun” as Chase famously called it in the first one.

When I was a kid, and a big fan of comedy and Chase (back when those things weren’t mutually exclusive) I saw the original in the summer of ’83 and loved it. I even read John Hughes’ short story, “Vacation ’58,” which Hughes adapted into the screenplay and had the movie poster 
on my bedroom wall (yes, I was that kind of comedy geek, but that poster, painted by Boris Vallejo, is pretty awesome). That said, I really don’t regard it to be a comedy classic (or any of the VACATION movies for that matter). They are in the category of films that I consider just funny enough to get by.

Daley and Goldstein’s homage to the vacation house that Hughes, Harold Ramis, and Chevy built has a fair amount going for it mostly in Helms’ and Applegates’ go for broke performances, a smattering of one-liners and gags that land, and a few surprise guest appearances, but it really suffers from way too much gross-out humor. There’s vomit aplenty in the aforementioned college sorority event skit, and in the movie’s most disgusting moment, the family goes bathing in a raw sewage treatment area that they mistakenly thought was their own private hot springs.

To be fair, that’s exactly the level of crassness that the other VACATIONs often reveled in. But then they had bigger, more genuine laughs, and an actual heart beating behind it. As it stands, VACATION ’15 may elicit some laughter from audiences, but it sure won’t make them whistle “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” out of their assholes.

More later...

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