Vacation: the death-knell of road trip movies? No, but close.

vacation onesheet

Wanna see Vacation? I feel bad for you son. It’s got 99 minutes…and there’s no fun.  Grade: D

Yep.  Chalk this one up to the ol’ cash-grab; Vacation proves that even if you pick proven funny folks to headline your film, it doesn’t mean it’ll actually be funny.

Story?  Sure.  Rusty — you remember the boy child from National Lampoon’s Vacation, right? — is all grown up.  Just like his dad, he’s a mess of a man who nonetheless enjoys every bit of his life.  And just like dad, he’s married to a beautiful woman who is way out of his league.  When Rusty’s yearly cabin vacation gets shot down by the wife Debbie and their kids, he decides to do the one thing you should never do; revisit history.  So a cross-country trip, wedging in a visit to sis Audrey and the ‘rents because why not.  Best week ever!  Cue “Holiday Road”!

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate do their level best to give Rusty and Debbie depth beyond the punchline-fodder they’re trotted out to be.  Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins play the New Griswold Kids, James and Kevin.  And after about 3 minutes I wanted to punch Kevin in the mouth, and I’m so not that gal.  It’s one thing to write a character that’s a total jerk douchebag, it’s another to give him absolutely no redeeming value and then make him one of the folks you’re supposed to root for.  SPOILER — don’t worry, you’ll see this coming if you decide to waste your money — James finally gives a smack-down to Kevin.  But it’s not as enjoyable as it should be.  Nothing in this movie is.

In fact, everything in Vacation seems to try to one-up the film that has gone before.  But instead of trying to be better, writers/directors John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein go for the gross out.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Add the telegraphing of every single punchline (and that the trailer showcases/spoils all the halfway decent gags in the film), and Vacation ends up just as tedious as the Griswold’s road trip.

The exceptions that make the rule?

1) Chris Hemsworth, as Stone Crandall, Audrey’s self-congratulatory Texas hubby.  Hemsworth hams it up big-time, and the whole “actor who’s obviously enjoying playing a guy who obviously enjoys himself” thing is good for a smile or two.  But even Stone’s welcome wears thing after the upteenth sexist comment.

2) Keegan-Michael Key and Regina Hall as Rusty’s neighbors Jack and Nancy.  Ever know that couple with the perfect marriage, the perfect kids, but who are so freakin’ nice you can’t hate ’em?  Bam.  Key and Hall pull that off…perfectly.  The scene where Rusty tries his best to “keep up” lets Key do his best eyebrow-raising.  Ahh, if there’d been more stuff like this.

3) Norman Reedus.  Enough said.  No?  Okay.  He’s little more than a cameo, but he packs more humor in what he doesn’t say than most of the cast does with what they do.

Which brings me to all the plotlines that could have been.  Audrey and Stone’s marriage obviously isn’t as picture-perfect as it appears.  Kevin and James’ brotherly bond definitely needs work.  And though there’s the obligatory nod to the first film with cameos by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold, Clark isn’t the lovable clueless goof from the earlier films.  In fact, he seems one step away from court mandated assisted living.

None of these ideas get more than a brief nod, or a throwaway line near the end of the film.  Guess fleshing out characters and their relationships — and possibly mining those bonds for more humor — would take time away from valuable puke, poop and dick jokes.

One more thing before I hit the brain-bleach and forget about this travesty.  “Screenwriters” Daley & Goldstein are apparently writing the Spider-Man reboot…so there’s another film you won’t need to waste your money on. Goddammit Sweets, I expected so much more from you.

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