The Griswolds set out on a road-trip to Walley World, with Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold, retracing the steps of his father before him, clearly blinded by a strong prescription of rose-tinted glasses. Vacation opens with Rusty leading an uninspired life, and the road trip is quickly mapped out as a route to resolve marital stagnation, mid-life crises and sibling relationships.
We’ve been here before. The themes, the topics, even the family surname. It is pretty much a pointless exercise to bemoan the pillaging of the movie vaults for new material, it’s a fact of life, kids, but the output here is neither offensively bad, nor anyway memorable to illicit much of an opinion. Everyone plays the straight-man in Vacation. No one is dangerously unhinged, manic or the constant victim of prat falls. In fact everything and everyone is copacetically reasonable, bordering on bland.
Helms is the instigator of most of what comedy there is, unknowingly idiotic and unfortunate for the running time of the movie, but ultimately he feels only a few degrees removed from a typical embarrassing parent. There’s no freak-out to shadow that of Chevy Chase from years earlier, and no delivery nearing anything classic, or indeed memorable. The same is true of the rest of the main players – Christina Applegate’s bored wife and mother Debbie and both their sons do contribute to the comedy so that proceedings feel like a real ensemble, but none of it registers. (Special mention here for the real-life names of the actors playing the brother siblings – Skyler Gissondo and Steele Stebbins – yes, really!)
Applegate plays Debbie as long suffering but with the promise of more – we know from previous form that Applegate’s comedy chops are intact and she is an equal to Helms in terms of both screen time and delivery. An early insight into her debauched college years though is quickly forgotten to roll onto the next unfortunate incident, and with it any further chance for Applegate to do anything other than be the voice of reason.
Very often there will be one saving grace, a break-out supporting character, gag or stunt that will life segments of a comedy to make it someway more memorable. The structure of Vacation – a string of incidents on a road trip – seems tailor-designed to achieve this, but the movie only manages to raise the shallowest of quick-fix laughs.Vacation is the schoolmate peering out at you from your class photo whose name you really have no reason to remember. The trailer for the movie goes to no end to highlight the appearance of Chis Hemsworth in his underwear and if this is to be a highlight then it is a sorry symptom of no supporting characters of real interest. There are some recognisable comedy actors throughout but nothing comes to any fruition here.
There are moments that will raise a laugh but the amount of clear effort put into humour does not deliver. There seems to be a a joke pitched at every sense of humour but the movie is so broad that only the most slapstick or crude have any impact. It’s not entirely clear which demographic is intended to enjoy this movie. For those clinging to nostalgic memories of the original, the movie strives to stand alone, yet a nod to Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon’s Vacation is possibly the smartest thing in the entire movie.
The movie rambles (or drives cross-country to be literal) to find road bumps and bad luck but no momentum or convincing resolution is offered. The family issues are half-baked to begin with and come the movies end everyone sleep-walks to a wrap-up. How very dull.