Oh, what sweet Hell is this?
I have definitely seen worse movies than Vacation but it’s hard to think of one that left me as annoyed. As I watched this movie, I found myself wondering how anyone could have made as many wrong decisions while directing one comedy. Then I remembered that this film had two directors and I was left even more annoyed. Seriously, couldn’t one of these two credited directors look at the footage and say, “Wow, we’re making a really crappy, unfunny, and mean-spirited comedy. Maybe we should reconsider the tone of some of these scenes. Maybe we should just abandon this all together…”
This film is a reboot of the old Vacation movies that Chevy Chase used to make in the 80s and 90s. (Christmas Vacation is the one that everyone loves but there were others as well.) In the original Vacation movies, Chase played Clark Griswold. Clark would always try to take his family on the perfect vacation and would slowly lose his mind as his best laid plans always crashed into a wall of chaotic reality. The original Vacation films were all uneven but likable, largely because Clark seemed to be so sincere in his madness.
In Vacation, Ed Helms plays Clark’s son, Rusty Griswold. Rusty is all grown up and living in the suburbs. He has a job as a pilot for a cheap airline. He’s married to Debbie (Christina Applegate), who was known as Debbie Do Anything in college. He has two sons and they’re both annoying. James (Skyler Gisondo) is overly sensitive and plays guitar. Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a psychopath who is constantly bullying his older brother and dropping F-bombs every chance he gets. (A little kid saying “Fuck,” is only funny the first few times you hear it. After the 20th time, it just gets boring.) James sings self-pitying songs. Kevin continually tries to murder his brother by putting a plastic bag over his head.
Rusty wants to take his family to Walley World, the same destination that Clark wanted to visit in the original Vacation. This involves driving across the country in an Albanian car that’s always on the verge of exploding. Along the way, they stop off at various locations and have adventures.
And not all of the adventures are bad. Occasionally, the film is saved by a funny cameo. Charlie Day shows up as a suicidal river guide and he’s genuinely funny. You find yourself wishing that he had a bigger role. And then there’s a scene where Rusty and Debbie attempt to have sex at the Four Corners and are caught by cops from four different states, all of whom promptly start to argue about who has jurisdiction.
But those scenes are the exception. For the most part, Vacation is just a parade of uninspired scatological humor and missed opportunities. When Rusty and the family drop in on his sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her well-endowed husband, Stone (Chris Hemsworth), Rusty spends a lot of time talking about how Audrey and Stone are politically conservative. Once they arrive at Audrey’s home, we are shown a picture of Stone hanging out with Charlton Heston but, otherwise, Stone and Rusty’s political differences are never mentioned again. And don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to sit through a political argument between Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth. But still, why set up a joke if you’re too lazy to include the punch line?
Of course, the main problem is that you just don’t care about these Griswolds. As characters, they’re all pretty unlikable and therefore, you really don’t care if their vacation is a success or not. Poor Christina Applegate! After holding her own against Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner in both Anchorman films, she’s given nothing to do here, beyond being the punchline in a few misogynistic jokes about being wild before marrying Rusty.
As weak as all the characters are, Rusty is the main problem. He can’t handle the fact that his wife has had more sexual partners than he has. He can’t discipline his youngest demon child. He has absolutely no good advice to give to his oldest son. When Rusty drags them across the country to Walley World, it’s not because he wants them to have a good vacation but because he wants to recreate a memory from his childhood. If Chevy Chase’s Clark was always unhinged but sincere, Rusty Griswold is just an asshole and it’s impossible to care about him. It doesn’t help that Ed Helms, as talented as he may be, has a neediness to him that can be amazingly off-putting whenever he’s cast in a lead role. He always seems to be trying way too hard to convince the audience to love him.
Incidentally, Rusty and the family do make time to visit Grandpa Clark. Chevy Chase looks even worse than he did on Community and it’s all pretty boring.
My advice would be to take a vacation from seeing Vacation.