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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vacation 2015 * * * Stars

VacationDirectors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo

In National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his family to Wally World and the journey is shall we say, shambolic. Thirty-two years later, we get Clark's grown-up son (played by Ed Helms) taking that same journey in Vacation (my latest review). This is comedy touted as a generational gap moment. And yet, it still feels like a remake, a same same blueprint of laughs that are forced and fantasized. No matter. In between moments of mild humor and hit-or-miss gags, what's on screen is hella funny. You get to experience a vaca that has movie R & R written all over it.

Now for all you facetious aficionados, Vacation has sequences where characters bathe in raw sewage, hang upside down in a roller coaster (that's where it stops), try to erase penis-shaped graffiti on the passenger side of their car, and run into a cow rendering it nothing but obliterated blood and guts. I laughed out loud heartily but remembered something even before the opening credits rolled (which are more offensive than what's in all of the previous Lampoon installments combined). I thought to myself, isn't the mantra of Rusty supposed to be smarter and less of a nincompoop than his dad. At least that's what I picked up with Anthony Micheal Hall, Johnny Galecki, and Jason lively (from Vacations 1, 2, and 3). Ed Helms (mentioned earlier) plays the adult version here. He's an appealing actor, he's goofy and likable (all you gotta do is look at the guy), and basically he's Ed Helms playing well, Ed Helms. Is this how middle age Russ would act? Based on the previous four flicks (six if you count two that are direct-to-video), probably not. Bottom line: I liked Vacation and I'm actually gonna recommend it (God help me). But I feel it could have been even more effective if it was a straight up remake of 1983's monster hit. You get a funny actor to reprise the Chevy Chase role, a blond, bombshell actress to reprise Beverly D'Angelo's Ellen Griswold and so on, and so on. The director yells action, the cameras roll, and everyone freely lets it rip. Just a random thought.

Anyway, 2015's Vacation tries to up the ante over all of its predecessors. It does this in terms of vacated grossness, vulgarity, and crass indignation. Two side players even suffer heinous deaths which is something I don't think I ever saw in the Christmas installment from 89', the Vegas stint from 97', and European Vacation (no dying here. A dog falls from the Eiffel Tower and survives without so much as a scratch). Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein really want to push the envelope. Proof of this can easily be traced back to the forty-five minute mark involving co-star Chris Hemsworth (he plays Stone Crandall, Rusty's well hung brother-in-law). Just revert to Mark Wahlberg's underwear sequence in 1997's Boogie Nights and that will give you a clue.

The story of course, begins in Chicago, Illinois. And if you live in the windy city (like I do), you'll be annoyed by how certain characters get around in their respective automobiles (residents in Chi-town don't drive past the The Chicago Theatre then drive north by Wrigley field in or order to venture to Southern California). Russell "Rusty" Griswold (Helms) is a family man and a pilot for a second rate airline named Econo-Air (they do those mini flights from Chicagoland to South Bend, Indiana). He takes this job so he can spend a little more time with his family. He has two sons (the younger one is the bully, who'd thunk it), a marriage that seems on the outs, and a log cabin (in Michigan) where his clan goes for summer vacation. When he senses that his better half (Debbie Griswold played by Christina Applegate) is bored in said vacation pics, well Russell decides to quote unquote, "shake things up a bit". He wants to relive his childhood memories so he takes his family to the Wally World theme park. This expedition involves a similar blueprint akin to 1983's original. They drive through Missouri (check), stop at a strange relatives house (check), get lost and stranded in the desert (check), have uncomfortable moments in rundown hotel (check), and pass by the Grand Canyon (quintuple check). Chaos and high jinks ensue because the Griswold apple doesn't fall far from the tree. There's a scene where Debbie and Russ decide to have unsuccessful, sneak away sex via the borderline of four states. Spicy.

In conclusion, you can enjoy this thing provided you go into it with the lowest of expectations. Truth be told, I viewed the trailer a month ago and figured 2015's Vacation had almost no affiliation with the other vehicles in this long running, Warner Bros. franchise. Boy was I wrong. As a new installment with the Griswolds of a new generation (I loved the family that was cast here, especially Applegate), it has the feel of all things Lampoon. And it doesn't hurt that an extended, Chevy Chase cameo makes the proceedings that more authentic.

In addition to Chase, you get some other jocular and rather interesting guest appearances as well. Norman Reedus plays a trucker and alleged pedophile, Charlie Rich checks in as a manic rafting instructor, and Ron Livingston channels an asshat tycoon of a major 747 airline. And in case your wondering about Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road" being played on Vacation's eclectic soundtrack, well don't worry. Thirty-plus years later and it's still in there. Here's my rating: A harmless three stars.

Of note: In 1983, Clark and Ellen's married couple try to get their kids to sing "Mockingbird" by James Taylor and Carly Simon. Now in 2015, Russell tries to get his kids to belt out Seal's "Kiss from a Rose". If you decide to take in a viewing, you probably won't be able to get that song out of your head.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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