Review by Adrian Lopez
We had a few National Lampoon's VHS tapes in the family collection. They'd seen better days, but I loved those movies. Especially the Vacation films. It was my first dose of Chevy Chase's comedic genius. That brand of slapstick humor he desperately fought to forcefully inject into his Community run. Never worked for that series, but it was always welcomed with young me as my sense of humor evolved. Also equally welcomed (maybe even moreso) was the gratuitous display of the female form. Jackpot for a spry, hormone-raging boy. That's what those movies were all about for me: jokes and boobs.
Vacation starts as good as it can: with Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" playing during the opening credits, amid a plethora of embarrassing family vacation photos. It's reminiscent of the Vacation of old. The familiar tune had me excited for the movie as I recalled all the early mornings or late nights I spent watching those films, avoiding my mom waking up to catch me enjoying a tape off the "Do Not Watch" shelf. The movie picks up after the 1983 film, with Rusty, the heir to the dysfunctional Griswold throne, all grown up and married. In an attempt to bring his family together, Rusty nixes the same tired summer vacation plans and instead decides to make the cross-country trek to Wally World he took with his family when he was a young lad. True to the original film, the Griswolds can't catch a break. But Rusty is the ultimate optimist, persevering through when he really should be cutting his losses.
Ed Helms takes up the Griswold crown very well in this film, sharing that same "is he oblivious or just bottling it up" sorta vibe that Chase played with Clark. Steele Stebbins also steals the show as the younger Griswold brother, constantly tormenting his older brother to worrisome levels. So there's some offerings in the main cast to enjoy.
What I found even more enjoyable than the main cast, however, are the small roles and cameos played by actors that will not doubt get you excited as soon as you see them. The one making the rounds right now is Thor's Chris Hemsworth as celebrity husband to Rusty's sister Audrey. His character Stone is a man's man, raising his own cattle and blowing out the crotches of his tight cowboy denim jeans. That entire pitstop storyline is easily one of the movie's highlights. t's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day plays a just-dumped-by-his-fiancee-right-before-work water rafting guide, much to the dismay of the Griswold clan. Key and Peele's Keegan-Michael Key is a father with the most sickening picture perfect father-son relationship. The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus plays a trucker/possible rapist. Tim Heidecker, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson and my current favorite scene-stealer Michael Peña play state cops in a Mexican stand-off at the Four Corners Monument. Of course, I'd be remiss not to mention the great gem of Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo reprising their roles once again as Clark and Ellen Griswold. You would think that particular scene would be overbearing, shoving down you throat that New Line Cinema got them to come back for this film. But it's not. It's fairly short and enjoyable.
Lastly, there's great nods to the original Vacation film in simple things like the vacation pictures from then, to the Toyota Prancer, a new take on the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. It's all a 80s movie refresh for a younger audience that's never seen the legendary films their older siblings or parents once saw.
It wasn't until about a solid hour in that I felt like the movie starting hitting its stride. Not to say it wasn't funny for an entire hour, but the phrase "hit or miss" couldn't ring more true as far as the first hour of jokes. Sometimes they were right on the money. Sometimes it felt pandering. As soon as we get into those small roles I mentioned earlier (and the incredible Hemsworth piece), the movie really picks up. Which leads me to wonder if my on-and-off thoughts of Christina Applegate being wrongfully casted into this movie were correct. There was just something about the character I disliked. Not as memorable as Rusty and the younger bully brother Kevin... but not even pretty decent as the victim older brother James. Her character was very much a passenger along for the ride.
The raunchiness of the Vacation films seems to be all but forgotten. I perked up when the older brother Kevin starts interaction with a love interest in the film, but it's very tame and not reminiscent of young Rusty's sexcapades. Instead, we see Rusty and his wife Debbie trying to rekindle their sex life by going at it spur-of-the-moment. But I couldn't help but feel like it was watching mom and dad try to be romantic. No thanks.
I know this one's gonna get eviscerated with the critics. Luckily for New Line Cinema, I'm not a professional by any means. I was a prime target audience for this, and I had a good time. It certainly made me want to go home and watch the older films. This is a popcorn flick, through and through. It's both hilarious and forgettable. But I did enjoy taking another trip with the Griswold clan. You might too.