Vacation

Director: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley (2015)

This flat retread of Chevy Chase’s 1983 road trip comedy trundles from coast to coast in desperate search of of a decent joke.

Stupid and cheap, Vacation lifts characters, plot, jokes and theme song from the original and does nothing interesting with them.

At the height of his mystifying ’80’s popularity, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) starred Chase as Clark, the well-intentioned patriarch of the Griswold family.

A cameo here proves his laboured comic touch hasn’t deserted him. Beverly D’Angelo reprises her role as his wife Ellen.

This time out their grown up son Rusty takes centre stage and is played by Ed Helms, formerly of The Hangover franchise.

Rusty is following in his father’s footsteps and dragging his own squabbling family on a bonding trip across the US, heading once again for the Walley World amusement park.

En route the Griswold’s suffer white water rafting troubles, quad bikes accidents, quarrelling cops and dogging experiences.

Helms does an uncannily accurate impression of the young Chase, regardless of whether the world needs or asked for one.

Christina Applegate gives her all as his wife Debbie. Her talent was honed as the teenage daughter on TV’s Married With Children and she deserves far sharper material. As do we.

As an accomplished comic actress Applegate gives Jennifer Aniston a run for her money. They went head to head as screen sisters in Friends and it would be great to see them paired up in some future project.

Skyler Gisondo is their sensitive, singing teenage son James. He is bullied by his younger brother Kevin, a gleefully foul-mouthed Steele Stebbins.

Thor star Chris Hemsworth flexes his pecs as cow-wrangling brother-in-law with a suspiciously large gun in his pocket.

With craft in the writing all four family members have an identifiable arc which dovetails into the overall dynamic. Situations are set up and have a pay off.

But there’s a distinct lack of ambition as the script sets the comedy bar dispiritingly low and persistently fails to clear it. But at no point do any of the jokes raise a smile, just a rictus of disbelief.

The tone is set at the very beginning with a series of supposedly real holiday snaps which find hilarity in snot, urine, vomit, violence and inappropriate erections.

Vacation also riffs on Duel (1971), National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and Airplane! (1980) to barely discernible comic effect.

There is a meta moment where Rusty addresses the film’s nature as a sequel but it’s executed without the wit of Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s Jump Street 22.

And of course there’s a special circle of hell reserved for films which features TV cook Gordon Ramsey in any capacity.

Technically it’s a fifth sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). That was penned by John Hughes, directed by Harold Ramis.

Hughes was responsible for writing and directing the great teen movies of the period including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) The Breakfast Club (1985). Ramis went on to co-write Ghostbusters (1984) and Groundhog Day (1993) as well as directing the latter.

Despite this talent on board, it wasn’t very good.

Vacation 2015 was scripted by the directors Goldstein and Daley who were responsible for writing Horrible Bosses (2011) and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013). It’s an altogether lesser pedigree, and it shows.

At one point a tour guide gives a primal scream of anguished rage, exactly mirroring my own feelings.

You’re better off at work than experiencing this vacation from hell.

Post script.

Chase and D’Angelo starred in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) and Vegas Vacation (1997) plus the short Hotel Hell Vacation (2010) released online.

There was also National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2 (2003) focused on the recurring character of cousin Eddie played by Randy Quaid.

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