Movie review: Griswolds ride again in up-and-down ‘Vacation’

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Vacation’ review: Comical road trip worth taking.

LOS ANGELES – As the allegedly affable Ed Helms saunters into an interview room, he’s asked, ‘Who’s nicer – you or your buddy Steve Carell from The Office?’ Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the grownup son of Clark (Chevy Chase) who tends to be just as accident prone as his dad.Monday night’s premiere of New Line’s “Vacation” at the Regency Village in Westwood left no doubt that the comedy had easily earned its R rating.When the now-grown Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) announces his soft-hearted plan to force his family to bond by replicating his dad’s cross-country road trip to Walley World, his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) warns that trying to re-experience a 30-year-old vacation will almost certainly disappoint.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Family vacations and road-trip mishaps have been mined repeatedly in Hollywood, but never so brilliantly as in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in 1983.Comparing the new “Vacation” movie to the 1983 original, “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” provides a nearly scientific look at the way R-rated summer comedies have evolved in one generation. Christina Applegate, who plays Debbie Griswold, the spouse of Ed Helms‘ Rusty Griswold, however, said that it’s difficult for her to be offended after portraying Kelly Bundy for a decade on “Married… With Children.” The evening was full of homage to Chevy Chase — who nursed an arm injury in a sling — and Beverly D’Angelo, who reprise their iconic roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold. The Harold Ramis-directed, John Hughes-written comedy, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, was a comedy classic that led to several sequels, including the excellent “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” in 1989. The new movie stars Ed Helms of “The Office” as Rusty Griswold, Clark Griswold’s now-adult son who, remembering the vacations he took with his family as a child, decides to embark on a trip of his own with his family.

The good news is that the latest entry in the series – “Vacation” starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate – does not sully the memory of those films in any way. This one is called “Vacation,” presumably because the National Lampoon — which has licensed its name to a long line of terrible comedies (“Animal House” is the only other exception) — wanted to distance itself from something this toxic. So I must adhere to my rule that, no matter how else I feel about a comedy, it gets a passing grade if it makes me laugh – which I did, several times. Ed Helms plays Chevy Chase’s now-grown son, Rusty (married to Applegate), in this latest needless extension of a series that included three previous sequels through 1997 and a direct-to-video 2003 spinoff starring Randy Quaid, who perhaps not coincidentally has since exiled himself from the United States. Really a joke exercise with tacked-on life-lessons, Vacation shows the hand of a small army of gag writers, some with conflicting styles – from scatological (a ‘hot springs’ that’s actually a sewage dump), to anarchical (things blow up from cars to animals), to sex jokes, to a puke-filled college booze-up to interfamily-violence/slapstick to a suicidal Grand Canyon white water river guide.

Making their debuts as writer-directors, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (they wrote “Horrible Bosses”) manage to pull off only a frighteningly tiny percentage of their gags, partly because of poor timing and inept staging — and partly because they seem to have put less thought into the script than the booby-trapped Albanian SUV that carries the Griswolds on their journey. Anything even remotely relationship-related falls flat – from the war between the sensitive older brother James (Skyler Gisondo) and his bullying little brother Kevin (Steele Stebbins) to the frequent and ill-fated attempts by Rusty and Debbie to find an adventurous place to have sex.

For the post-screening bash, attendees walked outside the theater to a mini-Walley World with carnival games, rides and food, with the Griswold family’s green and wood-paneled station wagon parked out front. (Pictured: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Christina Applegate, Steele Stebbins, Skyler Gisondo, Chris Hemsworth and Ed Helms at New Line Cinema’s “Vacation” premiere) For all that, the biggest laughs are car-related having to do with a crazed trucker and an Albanian automobile, a GPS that can only give directions in angry Korean and a remote whose buttons feature mysterious logos of a top hat, a swastika and other puzzlers. In the great Griswold tradition, his remedy is to throw everyone in the car and motor from Chicago to California and the famed Walley World amusement park. Certainly, Helms hesitated when he was first offered the role. “I paused,” says the co-star of The Hangover mega-hit trilogy. “I thought, ‘No way, this is a sacred cow’.” After reading the Daley and Goldstein script thoroughly, he was appeased by the content. “I realized it wasn’t a remake but technically a sequel 30 years later with a new and fresh look.” “I watched the originals mostly to steep myself in the world and the nostalgia of the Griswold-isms but I really didn’t look for any behavior cues,” Helms says.

With no pretense that this is any kind of “serious” comedy, the guest-stars can just cut loose – best example being Chris Hemsworth, who plays a full-out Texas redneck TV weatherman named Stone who’s married to Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann). Other points of comparison: ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation‘ (1983): John Hughes wrote the script based on a story he’d written for “National Lampoon” magazine about a childhood Disneyland trip. But for all the F-bombs and references to “rim jobs” and “glory holes,” the geniuses behind the new film just don’t understand the difference between genuine subversiveness and pointless vulgarity. Some recent big comedy hits have had their share of gross-out humor, which may lead studio executives to imagine that it’s what audiences want to see. The headliner worked alongside the Vacation writers and directors before filming began in and around Atlanta, Ga. last year. “I think Rusty’s strength is that he loves his family but he’s also repressed and he’s in denial, and those two things make for some great blind spots.” Never is Helms’ Rusty more oblivious than a wickedly funny scene with a half-naked Hemsworth playing the egocentric buffoon Stone Crandall interrupting Debbie and Rusty in bed.

To juice the ride, Dad rents a bizarre-looking vehicle with dual gas tanks, the Tartan Prancer. “Tartan?” asks Debbie. “It’s the Honda of Albania,” her husband reassures her. Goldstein, who did the “Horrible Bosses” movies, wrote and directed. “National Lampoon” is defunct, but the brand is launching a radio channel and rebooting its website.

The 2011 smash hit “Bridesmaids” had a scene set in a bridal shop that involved crude humor, but the real focus was the relationship between protagonist Annie (Kristen Wiig) and her best friend, bride-to-be Lillian. Overall, reviewers considered the movie “beguilingly witty” and “clever.” And recent box office hit “Neighbors,” which also had various over-the-top gags, also had story lines – about a couple worried about losing their cool status when a fraternity moves in next door and college students concerned with their futures – that reviewers found engaging. One critic wrote that “the fully developed relationships between the characters ground the film,” while another said of the film, “You expect hardcore hilarity from ‘Neighbors,’ and you get it. But she did end up visiting during the filming of another rude moment that had the characters trying to figure out what a particular slang for a sexual act meant.

She was fine with the definition, having already passed a test previously. “After The Hangover premiere, I thought she as going to disown me,” he recalls, referring to the raunchiness of the comedy. “But she loved it.” Mind you, Pamela’s supported her son since his showbiz beginnings as the member of a sketch comedy joke band with the Upright Citizens Brigade. In 2009, The Hangover led to a trilogy which grossed more than $1.4 billion US thanks mainly to the performances of Helms and his buddies Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. They also garner some winning performances from Applegate and Helms, who has mastered that endearingly earnest, dorky quality that allows him to bounce from straight man to joke man to Everyman, often in the same scene.

Unlike its summer brothers-in-raunch, “Ted 2″ and “Trainwreck,” which feel the need to dip into sentiment and speechifying, “Vacation” is a straight-up comedy. That’s why the Vacation offer came his way and why he’s featured in the comedy ensemble Love the Coopers with his idol Alan Arkin, Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Anthony Mackie and John Goodman.

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