VACATION – A Review by John Strange

Vacation 2015
By: John ‘Doc’ Strange
Directed by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann
MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity)
Selig Rating: Cable
Runtime: 99 Min.
Watching Vacation, you quickly agree that the film you are watching is NOT a remake but a new sequel to the series started in 1983.  The first difference you see is in the name.  This version/sequel no longer carries the “National Lampoon” prefix (sadly, the magazine is no longer in business).
The film opens with a montage of photos, possibly from the internet.  Most of the images are embarrassing scenes that might have been taken on vacations.  Some are humorous, some are not.  The montage ends and the film moves on to a passenger jet in flight.  We hear the Captain making his speech to the passengers and discover this man to be none other than Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms).  The Rusty Griswold we got to know as Clark and Ellen’s son in the first three films all those years ago (played by, in order: Anthony Michael Hall, Jason Lively, and Johnny Galecki).
He is as bumbling in his own way as his father was.  There is a scene where he leaves the cockpit to use the restroom and starts a conversation with a family with a young boy in the front row of the plane.  His pratfalls are reminiscent of those of his father but with a decidedly sexual undertone that Chevy’s Clark never had.
Like Clark, Rusty tends to get bullied due to his kind nature.  This is driven home when Ethan (Ron Livingston), a pilot for a rival airline makes Rusty allow the two flight attendants with him to board the crew bus and then pushes past our man to take the last seat available.  This leaves Rusty to sit and wait for the next bus.
At home we are faced with neighbors I would never allow in my home.  They are obnoxious to say the least.  Their boasts and put downs are difficult to watch.  The whole scene is a tool to let the writers put the idea into Rusty’s head that the cabin he has taken his family to for the last ten years has been torture for his loved ones.  They have gone because he wanted them to rather than because they enjoyed it.
Rusty’s brain goes into overdrive and out pops: Wally World!  Oh my god!  He has sanded off the rough edges of the original trip and made it into a good memory.  He makes the decision and regardless of the family’s wishes, that is where they are going.  Two weeks in a small enclosed space with two sons who can’t sit side by side without the younger one bullying the older one.  The oldest son, James (Skyler Gisondo) is an artistic young man who likes to play his guitar and sing.  His little brother, Keith (Steele Stebbins) is a wrestler and a bully.  He has figured out that his brother won’t hit him and spends his time tormenting James just for the heck of it.
Their mom, Debbie (Christina Applegate) seems to be a nice lady who doesn’t drink much and tries to be non-confrontational when she can.  When she sees the car that Rusty has rented for the drive from Chicago to Los Angeles it’s obvious she has strong doubts about the car.  Any intelligent person would.
And what a car this is.  Remember the metallic pea (as in pea green) Wagon Queen Family Truckster? Rusty has a new contender for worst vehicle ever! The Prancer from Albania (the best he could get on a holiday weekend) is a real piece of work.  It is a hybrid but the electrical plug will not fit any American plug I have ever seen (the corkscrew in the middle is the giveaway).  It has two gas tanks and needs them.  It has some cool features though.  The remote fob has perhaps 10 or so buttons on it, some for functions we really don’t want to find out about.  It has a GPS that works well but gets stuck in what could be called, “Angry Asian” mode.  It yells at them at each stop across the country. 
The family gets on the road and like the 1983 film we have the typical Griswold sightseeing adventures.  Like the cute girl who is smiling at James until Keith puts a plastic bag over his head to suffocate him.  Not once but twice.  But be happy, sort of, James does hook up with the young girl, Adena (Catherine Missal) later in the trip.  Like Clark, Rusty gets to experience a flirtation with a girl in a Ferrari (Hannah Davis) but she does not have as big a part in the film as Adena. 
When they see a trucker, Rusty unlimbers the built-in CB radio and asks for a report on the Bears.  He has no idea what the trucker is saying in his reply but he loves the fact that he was able to get someone tom respond to him.  Keith asks to talk on the radio.  He asks if it is true that all truckers are rapists.  This scares the heck out of the family and they do their best to avoid the trucker behind them (who somehow continues to show up behind them again and again on their trip).
Each stop gives us a different disaster.  The biggest eye opener is the stop at Debbie’s alma mater where they visit her old sorority house.  We learn mom wasn’t always as mild mannered as she is today (and that is a major understatement).  Yes, she was apparently known as “Debbie Do Anything.”
Perhaps the worst disaster takes place in Hot Springs, Arkansas where Rusty wants the family to enjoy the springs before they continue on to Audrey’s house in Plano, Texas.  The spring they are sent to is certainly not hygienic and worst of all; their belongings are stolen while they are away from the vehicle.
They arrive at the mansion where Audrey (Leslie Mann) and Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth) live with almost no clothing and smelling like a sewer.  And the artwork left on the car by the thieves doesn’t help matters.  Audrey gives them clothing the couple were going to send to charity. 
Stone has made his fortune as a weather man at a local Dallas TV station and the couple lives in a mansion on what appears to be several acres of land.  He has several head of cattle that he’s raising (per Audrey, he’s named every one of them). 
The sexual innuendoes in this section of the film are very heavy handed.  The part of the trailer with Chris Hemsworth in skivvies is but a small snippet of the full scene.  I would have preferred it removed or at least shorter in duration.
The disaster at this stop happens the next morning and involves a four wheel ATV and a steer.  We only see the aftermath and that is more than enough.  The family says their goodbyes and head out on the road again.
Unlike the original Truckster, the Prancer doesn’t make it to Wally World.  Its demise in the desert is explosive.  The family is picked up by the trucker who has seemly dogged them throughout the trip.
The trucker takes them in to San Francisco and drops them at a small bed and breakfast.  Their plan is to spend time with the owners, Clark and Ellen Griswold.  Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles as Rusty’s parents. Other than their ages, they haven’t really changed.
Clark and Rusty discuss the family’s plan to give up on the trip and fly home.  Clark convinces his son to finish the trip and with the loan of an old Griswold family car, the four get back on the road to Wally World.
The Wally World sequence is satisfying in a few ways.  They get to see the park and ride a ride but they experience a bonding experience at the park that will be cherished for years to come.  Following the park, the family split up.  The boys head home to Chicago and the parents take a long overdue flight to Paris.  Their seats aren’t first class but it’s the destination that counts, not how you get there.
As I’ve noted from time to time in the review, the sexual overtones of the film are more than a bit heavy-handed but the disasters are basically similar to those in the original film but updated for today’s audiences.  The sound track may not sell well as there are not a lot of songs in it.  It seems like every other song was “Holiday Road” or Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” from Batman Forever.  The cameos sprinkled throughout are interesting but don’t really add to the film.
When I started writing this review I had initially given this film our “Matinee” rating.  After writing the review and re-thinking the film, the best I can give it is CABLE as there were just too many things that disappointed me.  The fun scenes were simply out-weighed by the bad ones.  In this film-heavy summer season, there are just too many excellent films available to spend your money on this one.
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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