‘Vacation’: Film Review

27 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Vacation’: Film Review.

In the “Vacation” franchise, the heads of the Griswold family were always played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. Midway through “Vacation,” the intrepid Griswold clan unwittingly takes a dip in a lake filled with human excrement, which is roughly how most viewers will feel after enduring 90-odd minutes of this miserably unfunny, mean-spirited and just plain wrong reboot of the much-loved 1980s and ’90s National Lampoon comedy series.“Vacation” is a new action comedy release that pays homage to the Griswolds, the family of vacationers who first hit the silver screen three decades ago.That’s what 32 years of eroding filters, losing Harold Ramis and John Hughes along the way, have done to the second-greatest movie National Lampoon ever presented.LOS ANGELES – It’s a “Vacation” for a whole new generation when Christina Applegate and Ed Helms hit the highway in a brand-new, Griswold family road-trip adventure.

And so it was for me at Vacation, the gross follow-up to the Chevy Chase comedy from 1983, National Lampoon’s Vacation, a smash hit that launched a franchise. The original classic comedy was “National Lampoon’s Vacation” followed by a “European Vacation”, “Vegas Vacation” and even a “Christmas Vacation”. “Anyone who grew, who was born in the 70s and had the pleasure of watching John Hughes’ films for most of our childhood and into our teenhood were very lucky because that man had a very nuanced way of making you laugh but making you cry at the same time and I think that franchise was just – it speaks to everybody.

The new, unimproved Vacation tries being funny differently, more abrasively even than the original’s (unseen) dragging of a Griswold family dog behind a car, or a dead aunt tied atop. And even though there are cameos from Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), who were the stars of the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” this movie isn’t a remake or a sequel. Judging from the laughter around me, this new movie should be popular, though it remains to be seen whether the hard-R rating will hurt business for what is essentially a family comedy. When he penned the script for the first “Vacation” (based on his National Lampoon short story “Vacation ‘58”), the late John Hughes was riffing on his own memories of tumultuous family excursions in smoke-filled station wagons, and of a suburban middle-class America that aspired to the gleaming perfection of the families in department-store Sunday circulars.

By all accounts, he has a good job, a nice family, anchored by his very understanding wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), save for his foul-mouthed youngest son, Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Consisting of bickering but loving teenage siblings Rusty and Audrey, impossibly patient mom Ellen, and quixotic dad Clark (whose best-laid plans inevitably curdled), the Griswolds were like a live-action Flintstones or Simpsons (avant la lettre), and the good will of the first movie carried over into three lesser but enjoyable sequels (the best of which, 1989’s “Christmas Vacation,” has since become a December perennial). What wasn’t funny for the former “Married With Children” star Applegate was the scene where her family gets stuck, hanging upside down, on a roller coaster. But the Griswolds of the new “Vacation” really are the family from the Sunday circulars: They seem to have met each other at a casting call a few minutes before the cameras rolled, and the movie itself doesn’t seem to like them very much.

One good measure of what’s off about Goldstein and Daley’s approach comes right in the opening scene, when the now-adult Rusty (Ed Helms), a pilot for a discount commuter airline, takes an in-flight bathroom break, leaving the plane in the hands of a senile co-pilot — a gag that would feel gag-worthy even if it didn’t arrive with the Germanwings disaster still making headlines. For Ed Helms who plays Rusty Griswold – the now grown up father from the original family – it was a dream come true. “I fell in love with these movies as a little kid. Like the summer’s other tentpole movie set inside a fictional theme park, “Vacation” shows us that it understands the burden of expectations that come with resurrecting an iconic franchise. “We’re not redoing anything.

I didn’t enjoy that,” says Applegate, who is seven years out from her breast cancer diagnosis and feeling “good.” While the majority of “Vacation” was shot in and around Atlanta, when it came time for the Griswolds to go white water rafting, the action took place at a facility in South Carolina. “They had guys in wetsuits and rescue gear all down the thing because if you did fall out of the boat, you were gone, and you could drown,” Applegate says. “So there was an element of fear for me there, and when we were in that boat and the water would come and push it down, you really felt…I mean, a couple times I almost fell out.” As an only child raised by a single mom, Applegate didn’t take family road trips. “We didn’t really do stuff like that, my mom and me. The massacre of a cow, which leaves Rusty covered in bloody bovine intestines, is another scene strictly for viewers who confuse unprecedented grossness with delicious drollness. The Griswolds have endured a lot over the decades, though this “Vacation” is the first one where they’ve been road-raged by a pedophile truck driver and nearly taken over the falls by a suicidal river-rafting guide (Charlie Day). Next year, he’ll join Oscar-winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for his Starz series “The One Percent,”co-starring Ed Harris and Hilary Swank.

That generally depressive air is only compounded by watching so many gifted performers struggling to prop up such flaccid material (including no shortage of dick jokes, gay jokes, gender-identity jokes). The always game Christina Applegate, such a spry comedienne in the “Anchorman” pics, is utterly wasted here as Rusty’s long-suffering missus, on hand mainly to projectile-vomit her way through a round of drunken sorority games during a visit to her Memphis alma mater. First, what’s right about Vacation: Helms does a nice job of continuing the Griswold tradition of paternal deficiencies, oblivious to how silly he sounds when trying too hard. Least of all are Chase (looking frightfully bloated) and D’Angelo (looking radiant at 63), whose 11th-hour appearances seem tacked on as a post-production afterthought.

His appearance in tight, oh-so-revealing briefs is one of the movie’s rude scenes that actually generates guffaws, though it’s overworked by the directors. I was saying worse stuff when I was five than they were saying in this movie.” New Line Cinema’s “Vacation,” written and directed by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley based on characters created by John Hughes, opens in theaters on Wednesday, July 29.

Goldstein twice strike comedy gold: a Four Corners sex fantasy gone wrong in four jurisdictions, and the always welcome Charlie Day as a river rapids guide having a bad day. It’s a little hard to accept that Anthony Michael Hall (who played Rusty as a child in National Lampoon’s Vacation) would grow into Ed Helms, but Helms actually channels Chase pretty effectively. Applegate is appealing, even if her role is sketchy.The directors hired two talented actors to play the kids: Skyler Gisondo creates an endearing character as the older son, a literary nerd who dreams of taking a road trip out of Jack Kerouac, while Steele Stebbins is the foul-mouthed, bullying younger brother, funny even when his insults fall flat. If there were action figures of “The Three Amigos” and the Griswolds, I would have had those action figures instead of Storm Troopers and Darth Vader. As is often the case in today’s raunchy comedies, the filmmakers succumb to sentimentality near the end. (See Trainwreck for another example.) They aren’t willing to go all the way with the raucous juvenile jests that they favor.

Camera (color, widescreen), Barry Peterson; editor, Jamie Gross; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; music supervisors, Dave Jordan, Jojo Villanueva; production designer, Barry Robison; art director, Jeremy Woolsey; set decorator, Margaret Hungerford; set designers, Aaron Linker, Nathan Krochmal; Erik Robert; costume designer, Debra McGuire; sound (Dolby Digital), Mary Ellis; supervising sound editors, Elmo Weber, Tammy Fearing; re-recording mixers, Gregg Landaker, Brad Sherman, Darrin Mann; visual effects supervisor, Bruce Jones; visual effects, Hollywood Visual Effects, Furious FX, Method Studios; special effects supervisor, Russell Tyrrell; assistant director, Jonathan McGarry; second unit director, Bruce Jones; casting, Lisa Beach, Sarah Katzman. Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, E’Myri Crutchfield, Alkoya Brunson, Hannah Davis. (English, Korean dialogue)

Any Griswold road trip requires a Wagon Queen Family Truckster-type vehicle but Rusty grabs a Tartan Prancer, “the Honda of Albania,” which is the funniest thing about it. So yes, I had a crush on Kelly Bundy, which is sort of poetic – I had a crush on a TV character and now I’m married to that person, but in a movie. Christie Brinkley’s high-speed siren call to Clark gets a brutal salute, while motel-stop flirtations are left to the kids this time, James and Adena (Catherine Missal).

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