Although the makers of Vacation are saying the film is a sequel and not a remake of its 1983 predecessor, “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” it’s difficult to see it as anything but. The plotlines are so similar it could be sued for identity theft: A goofy, but loving and cheery father (in this case, Ed Helms, “The Hangover Part 3”) takes his reluctant brood across the country on a journey to the fictional Wally World amusement park. Here, though, the trippy dad is Rusty Griswold, the son of Clark (played by Chevy Chase, “Hot Tub Time Machine,” who also has a small and embarrassing part in this picture).
The clan runs into all kinds of problems in this comic misadventure, just like the first installment, but while that one had decent gags, stupid slapstick humor and great supporting stars (Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, Imogene Coca, among others), the latest film replaces all of that with profanity, violence and death (yes, there are at least two deaths in this picture, yay!). I know, I am supposed to go along with the sick and twisted aspect here and I realize it’s not Shakespeare (I never expected that), but have we really become a movie-watching public (or a society, for that matter) that gets sustained laughs from such sources?
This is a movie review, however, and not a philosophical discussion, so let’s do a little reviewing, shall we? Here, Rusty is a pilot for a cut-rate airline who is treated like a second-class citizen by other company personnel (it’s not likely this would happen, but for the script’s sake, we will just move along). Discontented wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”) and children, James (Skyler Gisondo, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) and the little brother from Hell, Kevin (Steele Stebbins, “A Haunted House 2”) are excited about going somewhere on vacation other than the same old cabin rental in Michigan, but when pop suggests a trip to Los Angeles and a theme park, their enthusiasm is cooled, especially after Russ rents an Albanian SUV complete with two gas tanks, a pair of electric charger cords and a control with confusing and nonsensical symbols.
Trouble begins immediately when they travel to Tennessee to visit Debbie’s old college sorority and find out she was a drunken slut (hurrah for family values!). In Arkansas, they have their luggage and money stolen, and bathe in raw sewage, but you saw that in the trailer. Then it’s off to Texas to visit sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann, “The Change-Up”) and her gorgeous weatherman husband, Stone (Chris Hemsworth, the Mighty Thor in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), who gets to show off his rock hard, uh, physique, while Rusty gets to kill a steer with an ATV (the laughs just keep on coming). Finally in Arizona, they see Charlie Day (“Horrible Bosses 2”) get killed during a river rafting trip, and run out of gas in the middle of the desert, but that’s okay, since their ridiculous vehicle blows up, anyway. In this scene, we finally get to see perky Rusty explode in series of expletives which recalls Chevy Chase’s wonderful outburst in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” although this time it’s nowhere near as funny or clever.
An unlikely rescue gets them to San Francisco, though, which just happens to be where Clark and Ellen now run a bed and breakfast. Instead of ending the movie and just going on, however, the Griswolds finally do get to Wally World where they get into a slow motion fist fight with the family of a snobby pilot (Ron Livingston, “The Conjuring”) and then get stuck on a rollercoaster.
A few laughs (mostly coming from the beginning credit roll with actual vacation photos and Hemsworth primping around showing off his firm body), but little else here which proves imitation isn’t always the greatest form of flattery. Musically Vacation is dead as well, as we get the 1995 Seal hit, “Kiss From a Rose” three times and the movie is book-ended by an obscene rap song (is there any other kind nowadays?), although Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” is prominently featured. Also, there is no cousin Eddie or goofy co-stars, just a foul-mouthed 11-year old (Stebbins) who spouts profane words at an alarming clip which the parents seem to completely ignore, and situations that make the ones in the first film seem thoughtful and cerebral by comparison. Save money and rent either the first or third “Vacation” flicks. They are pretty stupid, but at least you will laugh — and that’s not such a bad thing in these depressing times anchored down by comedies like this.