Vacation remake makes us wish the Griswolds would stay home: review

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

With a script lazily smeared with profanity and bodily fluids, the reboot of the franchise “Vacation” feels retro in the bad way. 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.Ed Helms is perfectly cast as Rusty Griswold while Chris Hemsworth (and his bulge!) shamelessly steal the show in rare comedic role, writes Us Weekly’s film critic Mara Reinstein Early on in this reboot, an adult Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) earnestly declares to his family (and to audiences), “This vacation will stand on its own!” Face it: An update of the beloved comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation has nowhere to go but south. (Or, to quote patriarch Clark Griswold, “This is crazy!

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. Though the 1983 film spawned three sequels and a kitschy Old Navy ad, no installment has come close tp matching the pitch black-humored wit of the original. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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). Like his dad, Rusty isn’t particularly respected on the home front and finds himself disconnected from the kids. (You would feel that way too, if you came home and saw that the youngest kid wrote “I have a vagina” on his brother’s guitar. 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.

The Griswolds head to L.A. in a blue Tartan Prancer minivan, “the Honda of Albania,” whose electronic controls include a dozen confusing icons (one of which resembles a Swastika). 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.

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. 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.

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).

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. The other gross outs and crass jokes are more of the meh variety, as Debbie pukes visiting her sorority house in Tennessee and that bratty kid repeatedly calls a truck driver a rapist. 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. In the course of the movie’s 98 minutes, a pretty girl and a farm animal both get splattered, the family ends up elbow deep in raw sewage, and Debbie pukes her way through a visit to her old sorority. Again, nothing is going to compare to the genius of John Hughes’ original screenplay — but surely cowriters/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) could do better than having that twerp also telling everyone to “f–k off.” Couldn’t they just leave him on someone’s doorstep with an explanatory note pinned to his chest, a la Aunt Edna? (RIP).

I’m gonna be sick.” Applegate does her best with what’s on the page, including the vomitous set piece that explains her college nickname, “Debbie Do Anything.” It’s more comedic opportunity than Chase’s straightwoman, Beverly D’Angelo, ever got in the original films, but that’s not saying much. 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. Instead of Christie Brinkley in the red convertible flirtatiously smiling at Clark, we see model Hannah Davis in a convertible flirtatiously smiling at Rusty. (The kicker is too good to ruin here).

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