Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"With this cloying core, coupled with its phoned in central performances, Vacation can only rest on its vignette style stop-offs to save it, and they just aren’t strong enough."

The romance of the American road trip has been in the cultural consciousness since the turn of the 20th century. John Hughes and Harold Ramis turned the undertaking into a purgatorial nightmare, locking the nuclear family into a prison on wheels where all manner of absurd and puerile events tested the strength of family bonds. While it wasn’t the most nuanced of comedies, National Lampoon’s Vacation had wit and heart alongside the irascible charm of Chevy Chase. It spawned a slew of sequels and spin-offs, the latest of which sees Ed Helms take up the role of Rusty, son of Chase’s Clark Griswold.

Rusty works for a dreadful domestic airline and subjects his family to the same beige Lodge holiday every year, and upon finding out his wife has grown to hate their annual trips, he decides to retrace his father’s footsteps and make the pilgrimage to Walley World, armed with a car apparently modelled on the surreal vehicle, lacking utility through overdesign, that Homer creates in The Simpsons. Rusty’s reasoning doesn’t resonate so much as Clark’s (Walley World was a franchise theme park for an invented cartoon character; no such cartoon appears to exist here) and despite explaining that this is a “different Vacation” because there are two boys this time, it doesn’t really do anything to build on or even honour the format it’s aping.

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Absurd and crass is the name of the game, but the potshots at the vast and bizarre expanse of America are traded for classist, gendered and xenophobic barbs. This is a film that spends a few minutes repeating the word vagina, presumably because the small army of writers involved found that this tested well with the right demographics. Instead of focusing on the deterioration of Clark’s frail ego, Vacation forces us to witness the dying embers of the marriage between Rusty and wife Debbie (Christina Applegate). It attempts to lend a heart to the film, but frames it through a typically rote lens of punctured masculinity, with Rusty discovering his wife’s history as Debbie Do Anything, her youthful promiscuity and the unrepentant attraction she feels to Rusty’s handsome brother-in-law Stone (Chris Hemsworth).

With this cloying core, coupled with its phoned in central performances, Vacation can only rest on its vignette style stop-offs to save it, and they just aren’t strong enough. Cameos of TV alumni such as Michael Peña, Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day and Norman Reedus provide moderate laughs. Day, as a nihilist raft instructor, and Reedus, as an ominous trucker, stay true to the dark heart of the original, and manage to provide some smart comic timing, but like the rest of the film, the intent and execution feel hollow. Hughes wasn’t afraid of gross-out comedy, but having the family obliviously bathe in raw sewage is not so much a step too far, rather indicative of a total lack in faith in the audience. Like the rest of the film, it feels at once patronising in its stupidity, and utterly unambitious.

While retracing the tyre tracks of famous writers across America remains a favourite pastime, this rehashed journey is as flat as the sweeping highways it traverses. It lacks the verve of its progenitor, and its panache at darkly comic absurdity. When Chevy Chase turns up to tell his son that the journey isn’t more important than the destination, that the trial of travel only serves to enhance the destination, we’re left wishing he’d imparted this wisdom much earlier.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2015
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Hoping to bring his family closer together and to recreate his childhood vacation for his own kids, an adult Rusty Griswold takes his wife and two sons on a cross-country road trip to Walley World.
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Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein

Writer: Jonathan M Goldstein, John Francis Daley

Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemswoth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo

Year: 2015

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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