Rusty takes the wheel for the latest Griswold ‘Vacation’

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Vacation is a sequel/reboot of the Vacation series from the 80’s & 90’s that followed the misadventures of the Griswold family. 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.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.Rusty is clueless as a dad and husband, but when he overhears Debbie complain about the family’s boring vacation destination, he decides to shake things up.

You know, the same franchise that helped turn Chevy Chase into a symbol of the 80’s and made Lyndsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” an iconic song. 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. He decides what the family needs is a cross-country road trip, like when he was a kid, from Chicago to the theme park Walley World in Southern California. 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. 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. Rusty swears he isn’t trying to relive the vacation of his youth. “I”ve never even heard of the original vacation,” James complains, to which Rusty responds, “Doesn’t matter — the new vacation will stand up on its own.” That isn’t the first self-referential nod to the ’83 movie Daley and Goldstein deliver in this sometimes bumpy script.

Rusty, his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) pile into their Tartan Prancer aka “The Honda of Albania” and hit the road for some much needed family bonding. 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.

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. There are visits to Rusty’s sister Audrey (now played by Leslie Mann), who’s married to an over-endowed Texas weatherman (Chris Hemsworth), and to their parents, Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) in San Francisco.

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. 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. Like Clark before him, Rusty labors mightily, if awkwardly, to bond with his sons — and to show Debbie there’s still some passion in their marriage.

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. 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. Helms is nicely matched by Applegate, who mostly is relegated to the sweet, supporting wife stereotype — but not before delivering a brutally funny early scene in which Debbie relives her drunken sorority-sister glory.

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.

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. 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. And there’s a visit to Rusty’s sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann), who has also grown up and whose husband (Chris Hemsworth of the “Thor” movies) is a weatherman who exudes a dangerous amount of sexiness. The script’s sharpest jokes are topical takes on changing family life —– keeping up with the Joneses in the Instagram age, talking to your kids about “gender fluidity,” navigating an unfamiliar city as a rogue GPS system barks at you in Korean.

As in the original, the hapless dad just wants to show his family a good time, and Helms excels at scenes of clueless exuberance, whether belting out a Seal song while at the wheel of the Prancer or failing as a romantic wingman when James meets a girl by the motel pool. As a family, The Griswolds have a few funny moments, mostly from Steele Stebbins performance, but they spend most of the film trying to dig their way out of absurd situations.

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. 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.

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). 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.

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. 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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