Vacation – 2015

Written and Directed by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Starring  Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase

The original Vacation was a work of the upwardly mobile talent of Harold Ramis and John Hughes. It also featured perhaps the last performance of Chevy Chase before it all started going downhill. It’s a classic, even if there were 3 (or was it 4?) subpar sequels with Chase and poor Beverly D’Angelo as the only returning “talent.” Yeah, I know, Christmas Vacation is supposed to be good. It isn’t.

The two recurring actors make another appearance in this attempt at a restarting of the franchise. It’s sad to see Chase reduced to one of his tired routines (the bumbling Gerald Ford), but it’s been sad watching him in anything since Fletch. That’s enough of about Chevy Chase. There are worse things to talk about.

There’s the feces filled hot springs in Arkansas. There’s the stupid European car that is supposed to be a plug in hybrid with two gas tanks and a completely moronic remote that is supposed to run every aspect of it. There is the fight at Walley World. Yeah, they went back to Walley World. There’s the 12 hour flight to Paris. Then there is the line up  at the Four Corners monument. Labored jokes: all of them.

This is not a good film. It’s not a bad film. It’s slightly below average. That is a bad place to be, but the bar is pretty low.  Really, the film can’t help but be better than all of the films post-Ramis and Hughes. There are enough guest cameos to qualify it as a Muppet movie. It’s got Helms and Applegate as Rusty and his wife Debbie and they alone improve things over Clark and Ellen. Poor Beverly D’Angelo.

Ed Helms’ Rusty is a passable paterfamilias. He suffers some of the ways that his own father does, but he puts a slightly different twist on it.  If there is a problem, it’s that most of the Rustys that we saw earlier had their finger on the pulse of cool. Ed Helms doesn’t go that route because, well, it’s not within his range. Singing poorly is within his range. My daughter, watching with me, said she’s tired of his singing. Me too.

Applegate’s Ellen wears discontent in shades that are familiar to me because I have spent enough time disappointing my wife the same way. The little detour that allows us to discover her life before Rusty is a little like the life we imagined Anthony Michael Hall’s Rusty would have experienced. Here we have Ed Helms playing…Ed Helms.

The relationship between the brothers is an attempt to really mix things up, but it comes across as weird in a labored way. Covering one’s head with a plastic bag for a gag is a big risk to take. If you go for that one, the joke better not be average. The younger boy picking on the older one is a perspective that works at first, but when it wears off, it is embarrassing.

Some of the stops along the way have their moments, especially visiting Audrey and her husband Stone (Mann and Hemsworth) and a little bit of the Grand Canyon. Most of the punchlines are lame. And when the physical comedy fails, they are sure to run it into the ground with some lame one liners.

Daley and Goldstein keep getting work, but I can’t tell that they’ve done anything that entirely deserves new work. Horrible Bosses is okay, but really, that is all. They do provide a great example of how hard it is to do good comedy. And now they get to do the new Spider-Man movie. Ugh.

Vacation is not a good way to spend your free time, especially if the weather outside is half-way decent. If you are a shut-in, or down to one good leg, I suppose you could do worse.

(** out of *****)

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