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Vacation (2015)
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by Brett Gallman

"Holiday mold."
2 stars

“Vacation” is the latest Hollywood resurrection to arrive with a winking attempt at excusing itself with an entire meta routine concerning reboots. This vacation won’t just be a redo of the old one, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) says, insisting it can stand alone as his bewildered kids remind him that they’ve never even heard of the original. At a certain point, you begin to wonder if the film is trying to convince the audience or itself.

Indeed, “Vacation” is exactly what you expect it to be: part nostalgia trip (set to the tune of “Holiday Road,” which is wheeled out numerous times), part retread, and very small part new spin on an old favorite. And by “new spin,” I mean a vomit-encrusted, shit-stained update of the property in both the literal and sometimes the metaphorical sense. At times, it feels like someone has fished some old family photos out of a septic tank.

From the opening credits—which recall the original sequence—“Vacation” announces itself as a raunchy reprisal, one where the postcards have been replaced with various gross pictures, some laden with puke and ass-cracks. Far be it from me to go all Old Man Yells at Cloud considering all the fart jokes I’ve laughed at over the years, and let me assure you that I get it—you almost have to expect this sort of thing, especially if a reboot is to avoid the pitfalls of simply retracing its predecessors’ steps.

But here’s the thing: “Vacation” wants exactly to retrace those steps and often wants to add only the basest of embellishments; it’s not that the opening credits gag is too gross—it’s simply done with all the wit of having someone scroll through a gallery sideshow on a website. It’s too easy, just like the decision to have Rusty—now in his mid-40s and captaining planes for an economy-grade airline—recreate his own childhood vacation to Walley World with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two children (Skyler Gisondo & Steele Stebbins). His attempt might not meet with the same disasters as his own father’s 30 years ago, but it’s familiar enough that the fumes of nostalgia constantly waft over in the hopes of distracting you from the lack of cleverness on display. Old Griswold family photos from previous movies flick by, a cozy reminder of what inspired this not-so-quaint follow-up.

Rather, “Vacation” is exactly what its credits herald it to be: loud, gross, kind of obnoxious, and often unwilling to trust its audience, so it underlines, highlights, and italicizes most of its jokes (or, at the least, screams them at the top of its lungs). An admirable attempt to recapture the shaggy, anything goes spirit of the original is undercut by an obviousness that guides most of its gags. Nearly every set-piece goes exactly where you expect it to without much digression; as always, the goal is to upend whatever idyllic outing the Griswolds take, be it a stroll back through Debbie’s old college campus or a whitewater rapids trip. To its credit, the script (co-written by directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley) attempts to outrun the predictability by pushing each joke to its extreme. Sometimes—such as when it stages an uncomfortably awkward exchange between Rusty his oldest son, and girl the latter meets on the road—it works, but, more often than not, many of the jokes don’t know when to quit.

In taking its humor so far, it brings some of the latent darkness of Harold Ramis’s original to the forefront with jokes centered on pedophilia, rape, and sex acts that probably shouldn’t discussed between father and son. The first ill-fated trip to Walley World 30 years ago may have detoured with the death of poor Aunt Edna, but at no point was Clark Griswold left covered in the blood and guts of farm animals like his son is here. Once “Vacation” reaches that point, you miss the sort of wry, almost quaint takedown of Americana found in John Hughes’s script. Not that it was without its problematic moments (the race stuff in St. Louis feels ghastly these days), but this update feels aggressively transgressive in, again, the most base ways: some early jokes come at the expense of the mere existence of gender fluidity as the entire family has a laugh at the older, wimpy son.

Contempt seems to simmer in the Griswold home: nobody takes Rusty, seriously, the younger son terrorizes his brother, and Debbie has grown unhappy with a dull marriage. Helms plays a clueless, dopey patriarch, naturally, even though previous portrayals painted Rusty as more of a wiseass than his doofus old man; bumbling through the vacation with a broad earnest streak, Helms is actually wackier than Chase, almost to the point of annoyance. Obviously, the film sympathizes with him—it puts him through the ringer but justifies his oblivious lunacy, affording him the same justified profane outburst as his father before him, thus reinforcing hokey values that ring hollow now. If only the filmmakers had sensed it would have been more fun to completely overturn the dynamic by recognizing that Applegate is sneakily much funnier than her on-screen husband and should have more opportunities to show it.

A parade of other funny performers—like Keegan Michael-Key and Regina Hall, playing the Griswold’s friends—rove through the film and continually reinforce the notion that maybe we should be following anyone but Rusty. When Chris Hemsworth saunters in as brother-in-law Stone Crandell, it’s a no-brainer: at the very least, we’re following the wrong set of Griswolds. Affecting a Texas twang and a knowing grin, Hemsworth charms even as an outrageous, alpha male misogynist with questionable political views; he’s so good that America should go ahead and claim him as a national treasure from Australia. In fact, he might be too good since no one in their right mind would ever love Stone Crandall if he were a real person not played by Chris Hemsworth (which is to say the GOP would probably nominate him for president).

Other bits not involving Hemsworth occasionally work, too: a recurring gag with the haywire GPS is just the right level of out-there stupidity, and an extended gag at the Four Corners Monument captures the anarchic “Vacation” spirit as well as anything else in the movie, even if it does feel like diet “Anchorman.” There’s a sense that Goldstein and Daley actually directed the film rather than let the performers improv before the camera, but their sense of pacing is all over the map, as it were. Some jokes feel clipped, while others drag on, especially some of the repeated material, with the younger son—who falls somewhere between Damian and Dennis the Menace on the Evil Kids spectrum—proving to be particularly grating.

Eventually, “Vacation” leans completely into repeated subplots and joke structures with little variation or surprise, joining the likes of “Jurassic World” and “Terminator: Genisys” as another exercise in empty, pandering nostalgia. By the time Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their famous roles for a small cameo, it’s no longer a vacation—it’s a family reunion, where even a familiar car returns in a moment so painfully telegraphed that you see it coming before it’s ever set-up. That’s the antithesis of good comedy.

Like so many sequels in this genre, “Vacation” decides to coast on familiarity to coax a sort of reassuring laughter; for a film that goes to some uncomfortable places, it’s awfully comforting in the end, even as it also continues to push the envelope. It remains convinced that these Griswolds are as essentially well-meaning as their predecessors, yet their exploits somehow feel meaner and far removed from the gentle absurdity from Ramis’s version. Imagine someone trying to convince you that they have a heart even as they’re punching a teenage girl in the stomach—that’s “Vacation” in a nutshell, and you have your doubts.

One thing is for sure: once the climax devolves into a series of callbacks, the early insistence that this “Vacation” can stand alone does feel like a farce. It winds up being one of the funnier jokes, even if unwittingly so, which seems just about perfect for a movie that’s content being a dumb, hollow recreation of a bygone time. In short, it’s the Walley World of remakes: a brand name that allures but ultimately disappoints upon arrival, only Chevy Chase isn’t here to force it to work at gunpoint.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28027&reviewer=429
originally posted: 07/28/15 02:36:01
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User Comments

12/08/15 The Big D Lots of dirty language but not funny--it's a flop! 1 stars
11/14/15 mr.mike It was dreadful. 1 stars
7/30/15 Bob Dog I guess slapstick is out of fashion, I found Vacation to be a solid little comedy! 4 stars
7/28/15 Jack Great review Peter. This remake is a cash grab, mean spirited, piece of garbage. 1 stars
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