Movie review | ‘Vacation’ reboot reveals rustier, raunchier Griswolds

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Box Office Preview: ‘Vacation’ Gets a Jump on ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’.

Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate. You remember the Griswolds, a family made famous by director Harold Ramis, screenwriter John Hughes and stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo back in the early 1980s.In 1983, moviegoers went on National Lampoon’s “Vacation” with Clark and Ellen Griswold and their two children, played by Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron.The comedy, hoping to restart the classic National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise, begins rolling out Tuesday night in select theaters before playing everywhere Wednesday.

The kid with the potty mouth may cost Warner Bros. some business at the box office, but in a strange way he elevates “Vacation,” a very funny R-rated movie with a PG-13 heart. Well, their son Rusty (Ed Helms in the role originated by Anthony Michael Hall) and to a lesser extent daughter Audrey (Leslie Mann in the role originated by Dana Barron) are back. The film is a sort of sequel to “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” the 1983 comedy in which Chevy Chase played Clark Griswold, a father determined to drag his family across the country for a vacation at an amusement park called Walley World.

The doomed family trip is a gold mine of humor and obviously contributes to the enduring appreciation for the concept. “Vacation” replicates many of the story beats from the original: Walley World, a hot road-trip crush, a ridiculous vehicle. Rusty, who is a pilot for regional airline Econoair (“We promise to win back your trust”), resolves to re-create the family cross-country trip to Walley World. For reasons that make no sense, he buys a fictional Albanian super-wagon of some sort with a GPS system that gets stuck speaking angry Korean (OK, this is a funny bit) to transport them. More than three decades later, Rusty is now a husband, father of two boys, regional pilot for a budget airline, resident of suburban Chicago and played by Ed Helms from “The Office,” “The Hangover” and “We’re the Millers.” He’s the go-to actor for a sympathetic doofus who wants to do the right thing but invariably does the wrong or cringe-worthy thing.

In “Vacation,” he overhears wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) tell a friend that she and their squabbling sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) hate the Michigan vacation cabin the family has rented for the past decade. But the young actors playing their sons come close to stealing the movie: Skyler Gisondo as James, the older child, and especially Steele Stebbins as Kevin, who curses like a sailor and bullies his much bigger brother. It has gross-out humor, including projectile vomiting, a potty-mouthed child with a bullying streak, a squalid motel and sewage bath, along with a dad who just wants to sing along to the radio with his family in his rented Albanian-made car and ride the Velociraptor with them at Walley World. The parents aren’t exactly oblivious to Kevin’s vileness, but they seem to put it in the same class as, say, not asking to be excused from the table at the end of dinner.

The eternal optimism and cheerful naivete that he brings to patriarch Rusty are endearing, if baffling, in the face of disaster, humiliation and other bodily horrors rained upon the Griswolds. Rusty, who tries to fix things by crossing out “vagina” and writing “penis,” dreams of taking the whole family for a ride on Walley World’s most famous attraction, the Velociraptor Roller Coaster.

Crazy Cousin Eddie is nowhere in sight but the Griswolds stop to see Rusty’s sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann), and her husband, Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth). More bullish observers believe it has a shot at matching New Line and Warner Bros.’ We’re the Millers, which likewise opened Wednesday and earned $37 million in its first five days in August 2013. Kevin is not entirely responsible for the R rating — the movie has sex gags and even a flash or two of nudity — but he could have certainly earned it on his own. Some moviegoers might recoil, yet “Vacation” would have been drab had it been populated with the same bratty-but-harmless youngsters as every other family movie. Mishaps, marital revelations, near brushes with death and other disasters eventually push even the optimistic Rusty to wonder if Debbie is right when she says, “Can you just admit this was a mistake?” But the vacation yields all sorts of firsts, plus second chances and even some advice from the architects of the classic Griswold cross-country adventure.

The best parts of this film are when Helms puts his musical talent into earnestly singing Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose.” He plays the well-meaning buffoon well, but Helms lacks the hint of darkness that Chevy Chase brought to Clark Griswold. In any case, Rusty, after procuring a ridiculous Albanian rental car that steals a few scenes of its own, makes one mistake after another as he blunders toward Walley World with his reluctant family. Although Ed Helms (The Hangover) is a solid comedic actor, comparisons are inevitable to original pater Clark (Chevy Chase) and they’re unlikely to be kind.

Teenage son James (Skyler Gisondo) has his dad’s sweet nature, which does nothing to fend off bullying at the hands of his younger brother, Kevin (Steele Stebbins), a mini-psychopath with a serious potty mouth. On a stop in Texas, Debbie allows her attraction to Audrey’s buff, cattle breeding, conservative husband Stone (Chris Hemsworth) to get the better of her. Helms, the old-fashioned notion of a road trip, and the reminder that no matter how awful your vacation, there is always someone (even if just on the big screen) staying in a grungier motel, standing in a longer line and visiting relatives even more successful and sculpted than Mr. There’s an entire gender-studies thesis contained in the masculine anxieties expressed in “Vacation.” Rusty bemoans that he’s not cool enough for Debbie, who has slept with more partners than he, but doesn’t even notice when Chris Hemsworth, as a conservative Ken doll weatherman with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo, grinds at the duo. Applegate, as Debbie, dutifully plays the role of an unruly woman who has been tamed by domesticity and left to reassure her husband of his capabilities as a man.

Rogue Nation, embraced by critics and costing $150 million to make, also makes a major play overseas this weekend, opening in 40 markets, or 40 percent of the marketplace (it doesn’t debut until China until Sept. 9). The screenwriters get some decent mileage out of a couple of original elements, including the comically absurd Albanian-made vehicle used to make the trip, a wry cameo by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus as a creepy trucker with a teddy bear stuck to the front of his big rig, and a suicidal Grand Canyon river guide named Chad (Charlie Day). Cruise remains a far bigger star overseas; his standing at the U.S. box office — at least among women — took a big hit after his couch-jumping escapade on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005.

Since most of the film’s best moments, such as they are, are captured in the trailer, why not watch them at home and spare yourself a trip to the theatre? Co-written by John Hughes, it’s the first sequel and quite a decent one at that, including a memorable scene in which the Griswolds stay overnight with a German family who have no idea who they are. With Hughes back as sole screenwriter, it’s probably the best of the three sequels, featuring a Christmas lighting scene that’s a gut-buster and the return of vile hillbilly Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). It’s the least funny of the series, clearly missing both the National Lampoon label and Hughes’ comedic touch in the script, with appearances from Sin City fixtures Wayne Newton and magicians Siegfried and Roy.

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