Harold Ramis’ National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) is, for quite specious reasons, considered a “classic” these days, a status based more on popularity and nostalgia than quality. The original Vacation is a pretty braindead, though likable, ’80s comedy that — for many thirty-somethings — was essential viewing as a kid. I was born the year the film came out and watched it numerous times growing up and — because of this — can admit that there are some iconic moments here and there. But again, this is solely due to familiarity and has nothing to do with how the film was made.
I say this because John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein’s reboot/remake of Ramis’ Vacation — aptly named, get this, Vacation — isn’t anything, on principle, to get worked up about. It’s yet another re-monkeying of an established franchise, and yet another obvious example of Hollywood’s inability to take chances. Many a tooth has been gnashed over this for years, so I won’t waste any more time on the notion, which leads us to discuss how good Vacation is. The short answer is not very. The slightly longer answer is that it’s better than it should be.
The idea is that the character of Rusty Griswold (who’s been played by six different actors over the years, and is here played by Ed Helms), the son of the bumbling Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has grown up, married and is raising a family. Unfortunately, his marriage is stale and his two sons (Skyler Gisondo, Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb, and Steele Stebbins, A Haunted House 2) can’t get along. As a cure-all, Rusty decides to retrace his childhood road trip to the theme park Walley World, which made up the plot of the original Vacation. Like the original, everything that can go wrong does go wrong. As expected, the film has heavy doses of references to the original film, almost to a crippling degree. Yes, most of the gags are cheeky reworkings, but they’re so pervasive that the film rarely feels original. That, I suppose, is no shock, but it reeks of a certain unoriginality and lack of true creativity. The rest of the comedy is built around boiling the human body down to nothing more than fluids and sexual appendages. This is, after all, a movie that showcased in its trailer a gag based around people swimming in fecal matter.
What makes the film work in a limited capacity is that it does have some heart to it, not to mention an actual arc to its plot and some drive behind its storyline. The Griswolds — to an extent — are likable and their problems are tied up in satisfying, if not totally surprising, ways. While this isn’t the most ringing endorsement, we have here, at the bare minimum, a watchable movie that revels in its own crassness. Rated R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity.