Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content and Language throughout, and brief Graphic Nudity
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Beverly D’Angelo, Chevy Chase, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Charlie Day, Keegan-Michael Key & Michael Pena
In a summer filled with nostalgic reboots (including: theme-park dinosaurs, post-apocalyptic warriors, and time-traveling robots), it seemed highly unlikely that National Lampoon’s VACATION would be getting a modern makeover. Fans of the franchise were naturally skeptical as to whether a new VACATION could recapture the hilarious magic of the better entries from the series. I’ll admit that I’m shocked at how much I enjoyed this film. I borderline loved it for the big, stupid, crude R-rated comedy that it is. VACATION understands what made the original films so entertaining and executes new material in a similar light-hearted, dirty-minded attitude that I’m positive fans of the series (or those just looking for a hilarious comedy) will appreciate. It’s far better than most comedy sequels and also ranks near the original VACATION and CHRISTMAS VACATION in terms of quality.
Set decades after the original VACATION, Rusty Griswold has now grown up into a husband, father and pilot. However, he’s not the greatest at all three of these things. Feeling a distance growing between himself and his family, Rusty decides to take them on an impromptu vacation to a nostalgic childhood destination of old: Wally World! In a foreign rental car, Rusty drives his wife and two sons on a cross-country road trip that has many stops along the way to the theme park. As you might imagine, things don’t necessarily go as planned. Awkward situations, danger, and lots of laughs ensue.
The VACATION movies have always used a basic, straight-forward narrative to move from set piece to set piece. This new VACATION is no different in that sense. However, one could argue that the new set pieces are slightly more ridiculous than anything Chevy Chase encountered in the past. That’s where the fun in this new VACATION lies. It’s a comedy that knows exactly what it’s supposed to be and marches with the same light-hearted, dirty-minded sensibilities that made the original films such huge hits. Ed Helms (who I’ve always seen as a straight-man for other goofy comedians) shows that he’s exceptionally good at playing a moronic doofus. Rusty is a likable protagonist and it was nice that they kept this entry in cannon with the rest of the series (Rusty isn’t the only returning character). There’s even a meta-line near the beginning in which Rusty explains that the “new vacation is going to be much different from the old vacation.” Little touches like these help this “reboot” morph into more than just another remake/sequel for a well-known franchise.
Rusty aside, the new Griswolds are highly entertaining as well. Christina Applegate plays Rusty’s wife, Debbie, and really goes all-out in her role. She mainly serves as the calm, collected member of the family to all the crazy weirdness around her, but she also delivers some great comedic moments. Rusty’s sons have an entertaining dynamic as well. One is poetic and awkward, while the other is a potential psychopath in the making. Other big faces show up in brief parts by Chris Hemsworth and Charlie Day. These two alone are worth the price of admission. I was nearly crying with laughter during Charlie Day’s sequence, so it’s safe to say that his scene was my favorite moment of the film. This new VACATION (much like any other absurd R-rated comedy) can stretch a few jokes for a bit too long. One scene at Debbie’s old college has lots of laughs and then nearly overstays its welcome. Aside from these rare bits, nearly every set piece and joke in VACATION deliver in hysterical fashion.
You know that a comedy is good when potentially unneeded sentimental moments blend perfectly in with the outrageous laughs to be had. Funny and charming the whole way through, this new VACATION is far better than it has any right to be. Comedy sequels usually don’t work. Some of the most painful, aggravated reviews on this website have been for unneeded comedy sequels. However, 2015’s VACATION knocks it out of the park for me with hilarious laughs and moments that I keep chuckling about hours after seeing the film. It may not hit with everyone, but it more than worked for me. VACATION is a comedy that I plan on revisiting many times in the future.