“This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.”
-Clark Griswold (Vacation )
Without a doubt, Chevy Chase is one of my favorite comedians of all time, and the Vacation movies are some of my favorite comedies of all time. So you can imagine my doubt when I saw the first trailer for Vacation‘s newest installment. Instead of making another low budget sequel or even a reboot, the studio decided to take another route. This film has a unique angle using Rusty Griswold in place of Clark. It has a decent sized budget and some popular actors. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the new Vacation is that it’s nothing like the old ones.
After overhearing his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), complain to a friend about the same old trip their family has taken for the last 10 years, Rusty (Ed Helms) decides to take his family on the same exact vacation he took to Walley World 30 years ago. The film goes to great lengths to make sure the audience knows that this isn’t going to be the same trip we saw 30 years ago. This is a punchline throughout the film. The filmmakers’ effort is noteworthy, but unfortunately it falls on its face. The effort to make this trip different is focused on all the wrong places. The Griswolds are molded into a family of idiots instead of just being unfortunate.
Vacation isn’t without its laughs. Christina Applegate as Debbie Griswold is a huge addition to the film. Applegate’s comedic timing is spot on. The Griswold kids are a little more fleshed out than they probably need to be, but both Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins are quite funny. Chris Hemsworth is my favorite part of the film. Hemsworth plays the ultra-conservative husband of Audrey Griswold, Stone Crandall. He is the anti-cousin Eddie. While Eddie is heartfelt and a royal pain, Stone is superficial and condescending. Hemsworth embraces his good looks in some very uncomfortable ways. Stone Crandall is a character that will stick with you after the film is done. The true star though is Ed Helms. As Rusty Griswold, Helms plays the hopeful sap extremely well. Helms is a perfect fit as the everyday family man who can’t do right no matter how hard he tries.
Vacation, at times, stalls in the effort to pay homage to the past Vacation film. The new and improved family truckster is one thing, but the bit with a sports car driving model isn’t earned or paid off well. The most unfortunate failure of the film for me is Rusty’s breakdown. Anyone who knows the Vacation films knows that there is always a point where things couldn’t get any worse. At that point, Clark loses it and goes off on a curse word filled tirade. Clark’s breakdowns are channeled towards keeping his family together. Clark never abandons the family and will not let the family splinter. Rusty’s speech is delivered well by Helms, but unfortunately it’s a pity party rather than a rallying of the troops. In fact, instead of forcing the family to stick to the plan, he is the one who jumps ship.
I try to judge films based on what they are trying to achieve and if they reach their goal. While Vacation is funny and full of laughs, it has some very troubling sequences. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Vacation, but I was also disappointed. The structure of an awesome comedy is there: a fantastic cast with the perfect cameos, a road trip setting that can constantly keep the story moving, and the nostalgia of a beloved film. But the filmmakers squander most of these advantages in favor of poor gags and contrived laughs. I will without a doubt watch this film again, but it will never hold a place in my heart like the original.