Rebooted ‘Vacation’ could use a little work

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Vacation’ Reunites Griswolds at L.A. Premiere.

“So you wanna redo your vacation from 30 years ago?” Debbie Griswold asks her husband, Rusty, with a look of bewilderment, early on in the new comedy “Vacation.” A reboot of the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” film series launched in 1983, this new “Vacation,” written and directed by “Horrible Bosses” screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, is the kind of movie that exists because greenlighting it is easier than thinking. 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.Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, who reprise their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold, posed with the old time truckster station wagon used in the original 1983 hit film.

“I don’t know why they call this Hamburger Helper — it does just fine by itself.” “Mom, we don’t have to ride with a dead person, do we?” “Dog killer!” “Daddy says I’m the best.” That camera pan of the sleeping family that ends with Dad snoring behind the wheel. The one-two punch earned them the job as the writers and directors of Vacation, an updated version of National Lampoon’s Vacation from 1983. “If they had said, ‘Remake’ to us we would have run screaming from it,” says Goldstein. If you’re like me, your cultural memory circuits are still so loaded up with the first “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” you don’t need a new one. Despite a strong cast and a few solid laughs, Goldstein and Daley don’t succeed at the task, relying too much on unexamined nostalgia and vile gross-out gags. 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.

The original movie, which featured John Hughes as writer and Harold Ramis as director, wasn’t exactly high art — half the laughs involved Chevy Chase’s reckless driving, many others his reckless walking. 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.

The cross country trip ends up becoming more troublesome than expected, featuring cameos from Keegan-Michael Key, Charlie Day, Leslie Mann and Chase himself. Watching the movie today, you’re shocked by how mean it is and how that meanness feels like liberation — a form of exhausted middle-class truth-telling. But there was something subversive about how the movie toyed with the enforced cheerfulness of the nuclear family and the sanctity of the all-knowing patriarch, deflating the “Father Knows Best” era like a blown tire on the Griswolds’ Wagon Queen Family Truckster. 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.

With multiple actors representing Rusty Griswold in the previous National Lampoon films, Helms said that Chase gave him enough inspiration by simply being himself on set. “The best thing he did was just give me a high five when we met,” joked Helms. “That was the biggest affirmation of my life. Today’s films play it safer, aware there are franchises and brand-names to protect, so what’s interesting about “Vacation” is that it holds on to the original’s acrid cynicism for the first 40 minutes or so before turning predictable and bland. 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.

Ed Helms takes the role of Rusty Griswold — the now-grown son played by Anthony Michael Hall in the first film — and right away we have a problem. 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). That was a momentous thing for me.” Steele Stebbins, who plays Rusty’s youngest and potty-mouthed son Kevin Griswold, said his parents were fully aware of his cuss-word filled script before he took the role. “At first they thought it was pretty funny as long as I didn’t bring the swearing home,” said Stebbins. “For the first month it was really weird.

Helms is a fine comic actor, but there’s no edge to his playing and no rage to his character, which original star Chevy Chase provided in spades beneath his button-down exterior. One way to update “Vacation” might have been to play with those changes, but instead the movie stays rooted firmly in the original’s tired marital dynamics.

If anything, Christina Applegate steals the movie as Clark’s wife, Debbie, resigning herself to the fact that she’ll never get to Paris like best friends Regina Hall and Keegan-Michael Key (of TV’s “Key & Peele”). 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.

It would have been deceptive to do so.” Following the screening, the cast of the film, along with Liam Hemsworth and Kate Walsh, enjoyed their own Walley World as the surrounding Westwood street was blocked off for a block party. As Rusty, the actor had to sing the tune over and over again during multiple takes, and then repeat the process when the Griswolds join in later. “We never sang that song voluntarily, because we had to sing it too many times against our will,” Helms says. “As great as that song is, it gets in your head and won’t get out. 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. There’s a freshness to the relationship between the brothers too, as the younger sibling, for once, is the bully, and the older one a poetry-writing softie, and both Gisondo and Stebbins have good timing and natural instincts as actors.

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. They get off some sharp social-media jabs in the early scenes and a bit where Debbie revisits her old sorority and her past as “Do-Anything Debbie” is a near-masterpiece of bottom-scraping summer comedy. Where the original “Vacation” relied on slapstick for its laughs, the new film is dragged down by something grosser and more hostile — let’s call it splatstick.

A sidetrip to a hot spring that turns out to be raw sewage is the first sign that “Vacation” will be throwing in the towel: When in doubt, break out the poo. 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.

Thirty years later, funny women are still underused — this time it’s Applegate and Leslie Mann as Rusty’s sister, who seems to exist in the movie only to beam radiantly at her husband, hunky local weatherman Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth). The guys are more fortunate: Hemsworth has one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, in an extended visual joke about his impressive anatomy, and Charlie Day creates a delightfully unhinged character out of a river-rafting tour guide reeling from a recent breakup. James’s road-romance with a teen cutie (Catherine Missal) gives Helms some amusingly awkward chances to play wing-man but the subplot never develops.

When Chase and D’Angelo appear in a short scene late in the film, like Stan Lee in a Marvel movie, it’s supposed to reward “Vacation’s” fan base with a moment of sweet recognition.

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