I think comedy is most subjective of film genres–some people find a certain thing uproariously funny, and an equally intelligent person may not, and there’s just no adjudicating the issue. Last night I attended a packed advance screening of the reboot of the Vacation series, and whether it was because I was in the mood for a laugh or the festive audience, I was tickled by just about all of it.
I hate reboots, but this one made sense. National Lampoon’s Vacation has, over thirty years, come to be an iconic film for a generation, so after it was sequeled to death, why not bring it back with Griswold fils, played by Ed Helms, to take over for Griswold pere (Chevy Chase) as the eternal optimistic family man looking for the perfect vacation? Helms was an inspired choice (Anthony Michael Hall, who played Rusty in the first film, may disagree), as his best attribute is playing naive optimism, whether it be in Cedar Rapids or The Hangover films, and he’s just perfect here.
Christina Applegate, who is now the go-to straight woman for comedies like this, is Helms’ wife Debbie. They have two sons–the elder is a sensitive nerd, while the younger is a foul-mouthed cretin, who bullies his older brother. I must admit that little kids saying dirty words is still funny, as is his scrawling “I have a vagina” on his brother’s guitar.
Helms is a pilot for rinky-dink regional airline. The family has vacationed for the same ten years in a cabin in Michigan, but Helms overhears that nobody likes going there. He is inspired to recreate the trip his father took thirty years earlier to Wally World, which did not end well (the original story in The National Lampoon was “Vacation ’58,” a great story that ended with Clark Griswold shooting Walt Disney in the leg). Helms and crew pack into a rental Albanian van, complete with a key fob with mysterious symbols, one of them a swastika.
We then launch into a road movie which, while familiar, offers genuine laughs. A mysterious trucker follows them after the young son insults him on a CB radio. They visit Applegate’s alma mater, where Helms finds out she was called “Do Anything Debbie” in school. They visit Audrey (Leslie Mann), Helms’ sister, who is now married to a studly weather man (Chris Hemsworth). They make a side trip to visit the folks (Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, only one of whom has aged well). Then they finally get to Wally World, where a battle erupts with a rival pilot over the last spot on the brand-new roller coaster.
This Vacation seems much more raunchy than the first one, though looking over the rating for the first one I see that there was some brief nudity and f-bombs. This one, keeping up with the times, I guess, has a lot more vomit jokes and spends a long time in a scene with Hemsworth showing off his package, a scene that was milked (sorry) for far too long.
There are many references to the first film. The beautiful lady in the car that catches Helms attention has a twist–instead it’s the eldest son who follows a beautiful girl across the seedy motel rooms of America. Helms and Applegate duck out to have sex on the Four Corners monument, one of the few gags that misfires, with an argument breaking out between the state cops of each of the four states (I believe that monument is on Indian land, so reservation police would be involved). And there’s a long scene that has the family bathing in a spring full of raw sewage, unbeknownst to them but know to us. When Helms gargles with the water the audience let out a long, collective “ewwww!”
While raunchy, though, the film never lets down its sweet nature. Beginning with a montage of vintage family vacation photos, seeming garnered from the Facebook page “Awkward Family Photos,” set to Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” theme song, Vacation is an exercise in nostalgia, that is sure to bemuse those who remember the first film and induce giggles in those who don’t.
My rating for Vacation: B.