If there were a 10th circle in Dante’s vision of Hell it would be reserved for movies like “Vacation.” Not only does the film feature a script that has less life than roadkill, a pacing that makes Los Angeles traffic look like the Indy 500 and as much humor as the mass funeral of orphans, nuns and kittens, it smears the good name of the 1983 Chevy Chase comedy, “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
If “Vacation” were a road trip, the most humane thing would be to slam into the first giant tree and end the agony.
The disaster starts with the casting of Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Helms or his performance, it’s just that he offers all the excitement of a glass of room temperature water.
He never comes close to being that everyman Sad Sack that Chase played so well. So, when the trip across country to Wally World begins to fall apart, we have no sympathy for the character. He just comes across as an idiot who doesn’t know when to give up. It would have been better to have Anthony Michael Hall play Rusty. He originated the role. If he was busy, then Jason Lively, Johnny Galecki or Ethan Embry could have been cast – they all played Rusty in one of the many “Vacation” sequels.
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Any actor would have faced the same problem that sent Helms into a spiral: Writer-directors Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley show no originality in their writing. When the Griswolds show up for a white water rafting trip just as their guide breaks up with his fiancee, the events that follow show a deep lack of originality. The filmmakers turn to jokes about pedophilia, binge drinking, adultery, drug abuse, attempted murder, racism, animal abuse and rape. One of the first big jokes has to do with someone having AIDS.
There’s even a running joke about a younger brother trying to kill his older brother by pulling a plastic bag over his head. It’s the kind of scene that should come with a warning – DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. That same 9-year-old psychopath is the source of another attempt at humor by having him spew profanity.
Daley and Goldstein are first-time directors and it painfully shows. They allow Chase – who sadly makes a cameo appearance – to fumble with a guitar in what is supposed to be as funny as his days on “Saturday Night Live.” Now, it just looks like someone who has no idea how to make people laugh.
The only things that keep “Vacation” from being a total failure are a gutsy effort by Christina Applegate, as Rusty’s wife, and the use of the Lindsey Buckingham song “Holiday Road,” from the first movie. When Applegate doesn’t look apologetic for being part of this stinker, she gives the film more credibility than it deserves. “Holiday Road” is just one of the greatest songs to be part of a movie soundtrack.
Otherwise, “Vacation” is an endless journey of foul jokes, uninspired humor and predictable material. This is a rare occasion where it’s possible to get car sick while sitting in a movie theater.
STARS: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann.
DIRECTOR: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein.
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes.
RATING: R (crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity).