This year’s slate of summer flicks wouldn’t be complete without a family-road-trip yarn, and what better movie to fill that niche than a sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation series? Sounds great in theory, right? Unfortunately, this summer’s reboot of the 1983 treasure that starred Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold is a snoozer, another mindless entry in the National Lampoon franchise.
A grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) spends his days working as a pilot for a no-name airline company, and his nights living in suburban Chicago with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Predictably dysfunctional, the next generation of the Griswolds are expecting their Memorial Day trip to be yet another stay at a boring cabin in Michigan — it’s Rusty’s favorite retreat, although it’s grown old hat for the rest of the clan. But Rusty is a devoted family man, and he can sense his wife’s discontent. On a whim, he decides to pack his family into a rented SUV from Albania, and together they set off across the country for Walley World, a massive theme park in California, just as his father Clark did for his own family years ago. The Griswolds run into a series of increasingly ridiculous misadventures along the way, as their quest for Walley World takes some serious detours.
Written and directed by the duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, Vacation is devoid of anything as humorous as Chevy Chase’s physical comedy from the original film. Ed Helms tries his best to salvage the flimsy script, but his typecasting as the overly energetic and oblivious dad wears thin: For example, he has a joke involving Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” that’s reprised three times, and each time it’s even more excruciating to sit through. The same goes for Applegate, whose comedic talents would have greatly benefited from a revised script. However, the best parts of Vacation are the interactions between older brother James and the snot-nosed Kevin. Steele Stebbins’ role as the foulmouthed Kevin is one that just about any preteen would kill to play; he spews a constant stream of ridiculous insults at his meek older brother, and supplies Vacation with its funniest moments.
Chase and D’Angelo appear toward the end of the film, but the reunion depresses more than it inspires laughter. Time has not been kind to Chase, whose parental exuberance was a source of great entertainment in the 1983 picture, and D’Angelo is trotted onscreen but given little to say. Their scenes exist merely to conjure up some nostalgia, instead of using our memories of the original movie to develop any new jokes.
Vacation does benefit from some other cameos, including The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia veterans Charlie Day and Kaitlin Olson, but these brief appearances aren’t enough to keep the story afloat. The non sequiturs of the family road trip are what made the original Vacation films cult classics — they featured a seemingly endless barrage of cringe-worthy scenarios that tested the mettle, and patience, of the Griswold clan. Vacation tries for the same formula here, but most of the gags are misfires. We’re reintroduced to Rusty’s sister Audrey (now played by Leslie Mann) and her rippling beau Stone (Chris Hemsworth), but the movie stalls even further when the Griswolds spend a night at their Texas mansion. Most of the pit stops in Vacation start as potentially funny episodes, but the humor usually ends with the setup. This comedy script desperately lacks any real guffaw moments.
It’s difficult to despise a film like Vacation that is, at its core, innocuous. Goldstein and Daley tried their darnedest to squeeze one more go-round out of the Griswold legacy, but it’s obvious that this attempt was doomed from the start. A reboot requires a delicate blend of nostalgia and fresh interpretation, and while Vacation tries to remind moviegoers of the franchise’s better days, it falls miles short of creating something worthwhile.