Review – It’s a Long Way Down the Holiday Road… (“Vacation”)

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who both wrote Horrible Bosses), both directed and wrote this sorta-kinda rebooted/updated version of the wildly popular National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase as Clark “Sparky” Griswold. But this time, it stars Ed Helms as Clark’s son, Rusty, and his family heading off to Walley World.

Coming at you with a frat boys/penis-in-your-face mentality, this raunchy and very R-rated Vacation has Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) as an airline pilot for Econo-Air, a cheap airlines in Chicago. He’s married to gorgeous Debbie (Christina Applegate) and has two dysfunctional sons: awkward dweeb teen James (Skylar Gisondo) and foul-mouthed vicious little Kevin (Steele Stebbins). After a disturbing dinner party, Rusty decides that their yearly family vacation will be not at their cabin in the woods, but driving cross-country to Walley World, like his dad like did 30 years ago.

Buying a goofy looking 2015 Tartan Prancer (made in Albania and sporting alot of weird options), they set out to California to ride the ultimate roller-coaster, the Velociraptor! They, of course, make some stops on the way and that’s where the road trip goes sideways. In Memphis, Debbie makes a fool of herself at her old sorority house for their fundraiser for “ass burgers” disease, a relaxing dip in some “hot springs” turns out to be “sewer springs”, a crazed trucker is after them on the road, a suicidal rafting guide (Charlie Day) almost ends them, and the car’s GPS is speaking very angry Japanese for some odd reason.

Happily, they stop off at Audrey Griswold’s (Leslie Mann) magnificent ranch estate with her rich (and well-endowed) TV weatherman husband, Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth). After staying there for as long as it takes to cause mayhem, the Griswolds are off again, but in Arizona their car explodes (oh, those nutty keypad buttons!) and they end up hitching a ride with that crazy trucker (Norman Reedus) to San Francisco and to mom and dad’s B&B business. Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) welcome their family and loan them a car to complete their adventure to Walley World where, happy for the first time, they ride (kinda) the mega-coaster after a fist-fight with some real douches.

Operating on several levels, this movie caters (I suppose) to a wide range of viewers. There are F-bombs flying aplenty with several gross-out scenes, very funny sight gags and one-liners that occasionally hit the mark, Applegate’s entire sorority challenge (ala TV’s Wipeout show) is a scream, and really stupid scenes that are SO dumb they’re funny. On the other hand, it misses entirely with bad continuity, plot holes everywhere, some truly awful jokes and scenes that never get any laughs at all, and a forced storyline about Rusty’s and Debbie’s strained marriage that feels tacked on. It seems that writer/director’s Daley and Goldstein tried to be a little too clever and got lost along the way.

Ed Helms is adequate as the hang-dog Rusty, trying to keep his family together through all the trouble, but he ain’t no Chevy Chase. Applegate is the real treasure here; she conveys all the emotion and dead-pan comedy and steals the movie from Helms. The kids are passive-aggressive enough and okay, and to see Thor trade his hammer in as a strutting ass with a Texas twang is pretty cute. You also get see the ol’ the Wagon Wheel Family Truckster from the original 1983 movie again.

OMG! It seems all I’ve been doing lately is review rebooted movies series! The Terminator saga, the upcoming Mission: Impossible legacy, and now here comes a reboot of the Vacation franchise which, let’s be honest, hasn’t had the best track record on film. Aside from the original movie, only the Christmas version scored any points. So hang on kiddies, as we cash in our vacation time and look at the history of the Griswolds and their wacky adventures!

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Flying under the National Lampoon’s magazine banner, the original Vacation was directed by the terrific Harold Ramis and written by the legendary John Hughes (also a Lampoon staff writer). What a team! The film follows Clark “Sparky” Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his beautiful wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) as they take their two children, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron), on a cross-country trip from their home in Chicago to the California theme-park, Walley World.

Instead of flying, Clark wants to drive in his new behemoth car, the Wagon Wheel Family Truckster. Naturally, things go bad as the family gets lost, almost get killed, and they spend the night at the home of Ellen’s cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) and looney husband, Eddie (Randy Quaid). There, they are forced to take their Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her dog to Arizona. Along the way, Clark accidentally drags Edna’s dog to death and Edna dies during the trip. Oh, and there’s a hot chick (Christie Brinkley) in red Ferrari that seems to be following them, making Clark act crazy. Dropping Edna’s body. . . uh, corpse (they tied her to the roof) off at a cousin’s place in Phoenix, the family soon makes it to Walley World, only to find it’s closed!

Clark has a nuclear meltdown and buys a BB gun, then demands the park security guard (John Candy) to open the park up and take them all on the rides! Eventually, owner Roy Walley (Eddie Bracken) arrives with a SWAT team, but understands Clark’s mad passion, and decides not to file any criminal charges against them.

This cemented Chevy Chase as a bonafide actor with this big-budget comedy and his lead role along delicious D’Angelo; a chemistry that was undeniable. There are several things to watch for here: a 14-year-old Jane Krakowsi as Vicki, Cousin Eddie’s daughter, Christie Brinkley handling that Ferrari when she couldn’t drive a foreign 6-speed, Imogene Coca suffered a stroke during filming, and look for Anthony Michael Hall gaining a foot at the end. Why the sudden growth spurt? The entire ending was re-written and re-shot four months later when the original ending (Clark kidnaps and shoots Roy Walley) tested bad with audiences.

This movie was an instant success and went bonkers at the box office, making a fortune for Warner Bros., who naturally decided on a sequel. Yeah, that wasn’t the best idea.

National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

Still flying under the magazine’s banner, this must have seemed like a good idea at the time. You had a competent director (Amy Heckerling) and two decent screenwriters (John Hughes and Robert Klane), so what the hell went so wrong? This is a comedy that wasn’t very funny. I have my theories; one of them involves government conspiracy, but that’s for another time.

After becoming the winning family on a game show called “Pig In A Poke,” the Griswolds win a two-week trip to Europe. Sound like a promising set-up, right? Their vacation begins in London, where the family (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as mom and dad again, but newbies Dana Hill and Jason Lively as Audrey and Rusty) visit the sights, get into trouble because, gosh, them English drive on the wrong side of the road, darn it! They nail a bicyclist (Python’s Eric Idle–the only funny person in this movie), who keeps popping up here and there, only to get run over by Clark repeatedly. A running gag. . . get it? Sorry.

Anyway, Clark knocks down Stonehenge, they stop over in France, spend the night in West Germany with strangers who think they are relatives, and go on to Italy where they become involved with a robbery and kidnapping. Yeah, downright hysterical.

It just didn’t work. None of the lame gags or racial profiling of other countries and their habits did any good to boost this movies box office ratings. Like the disappointing sequel to Mission: Impossible, this movie nearly ended the franchise right here. But then, something wonderful happened! Santa came to town!

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Hey, here’s an idea… how about a Vacation movie where the Griswolds don’t go anywhere? Written by John Hughes again and directed by little known Jeremiah Chechik, this hilarious little Holiday gift of joy came to us at Christmas time and was just was we needed.

With Christmas only a few weeks away, Clark Griswold (Chase again) gets a Christmas tree from the forest with his wife (D’Angelo again), and his two kids, daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and son Rusty (Johnny Galecki–from TV’s Big Bang Theory) to usher in the holiday spirit at home, along with his nutty in-laws. Those in-laws arrive in droves to drive Clark up the wall as he attempts to outfit his home with enough Christmas lights to brighten up all of Chicago. This, plus he’s waiting for his Christmas bonus check from work (he really wants that new pool!).

The in-laws (Diane Ladd, John Randolph, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, William Hickey, and the voice of Betty Boop herself–Mae Questel) all arrive to reign havoc, along with (shudder! gasp!) Cousin Eddie?! (Randy Quaid) and his family?? Yikes! Mayhem ensues with a squirrel in the Christmas tree, a disastrous turkey dinner, the next door neighbors (Julie Louis-Dreyfus and Nichols Guest) getting the brunt of Clark’s shenanigans, and a killer saucer ride in the snow!

Shown every year at Christmas time on TV, this perennial Holiday favorite is just too funny and more than made up for that lousy sequel years before. It has more than slapstick comedy and Clark going bonkers at the end, it has heart and a sweetness about it, along with a damn fine screenplay and big laughs. This is the only sequel in the Vacation series to have spawned (from Hell) its own direct-to-DVD sequel: 2003’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure with Quaid in the lead role. Never heard of it? No one has! It’s so bad they show to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to break them. I hear it’s very effective. Better than water-boarding.

Vegas Vacation (1997)

Notice something? National Lampoon is missing in the title. That’s because Lampoon screenwriter John Hughes didn’t write this miserable film and the credits went to Elisa Bell, who normally writes little seen TV shows; this was her first and only movie screenplay. To say this movie is bad is an understatement.

Directed by Stephen Kessler (his one and only directed movie), this paycheck for Chase and D’Angelo has the Griswolds on vacation in Las Vegas. Hijinks ensue when Clark, his gambling addiction in full gear, blows all their money, resulting in the family breaking up and off in their own directions, having to fend for themselves. Y’see, is that a laugh riot? While Clark tries to regain his money through the help of his Cousin Eddie (Quaid again), Ellen becomes infatuated with Wayne Newton (yes, THAT Wayne Newton!) as Rusty (Ethan Embry) is a huge winner at anything he gambles at and Audrey (Marisol Nichols) turns to go-go dancing.

The ending, Clark conveniently winning the lottery while Rusty wins four brand-new cars, is SO contrived and SO stupid, you wanted to throw your $11 popcorn at the screen and scream, “What the hell? Who wrote this crap?” I should know. I did that. This is such a bad movie, it makes European Vacation look like Oscar material. A writer that didn’t know what she writing, a director that never directed a motion picture before, and they greenlit this??

What’s worse, they HAD to bring in the iconic Sid Caesar and the original red Ferrari girl, Christie Brinkley, just to spice it up! Even Chase knew this film was a dog and said good-bye to the franchise forever, until the 2010’s Super Bowl short film called Hotel Hell Vacation. He and D’Angelo reprised their roles in this very funny 14-minute film that you can see on YouTube.