Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Last Year's Vacation

On a night when I was looking for some truly lightweight and undemanding entertainment, I watched Vacation, the recent reboot/sequel to the classic National Lampoon's Vacation. My expectations were low, and I was quite worn down and exhausted from a long week. Perhaps one or both of those factors played into my somewhat surprising reaction -- the movie was alright for a few laughs.

In a conscious repackaging of the original Vacation's premise, members of the Griswold family hop in the car for a cross-country road trip to Walley World amusement park. They have plenty of misadventures, gross-out gags, and hijinks along the way. The format here isn't an avalanche of jokes, but more a procession of sketches. They visit Debbie's college. They stop off at a "hot spring." They visit relatives. The movie sticks with each mini-premise for a while before moving on.

That the movie is effective at all probably has a lot more to do with the cast than the script -- it feels like several gags here wouldn't be funny on paper, but they work thanks to the game performances. Ed Helms uses his trademark earnestness from The Office to full effect as the fifth(?) actor to play Rusty Griswold in a Vacation movie. Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins have several great moments as Rusty's two sons, particularly when playing around with the funny notion of the younger sibling being the bully. And the strongest of the whole cast is Christina Applegate, who goes for broke with lots of physical comedy as Rusty's wife Debbie.

The episodic nature of the movie gives several other performers chances to pop up in extended cameos. The script gives some a lot to work with, as with Chris Hemsworth, Charlie Day, and Keegan-Michael Key. It underuses others, like Leslie Mann and Ron Livingston. And yes, there are appearances by Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo too. It's a bit uneven overall; the movie is definitely stronger when focusing on the family and not the wacky side characters. Still, a good moment usually comes along before you get too restless.

I'd grade Vacation a B-. There are better comedies out there, but this one still delivers enough laughs to be generally worthwhile.

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