So you want to see a funny movie on your date? It might sound like a no-brainer to go enjoy a remake of the 1983 Chevy Chase comedy classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” starring the normally lovable Ed Helms of “The Office” and “Hangover” fame.
But sadly, the terribly conceived new reboot (out today) proves to be a trip not worth taking – unless you want to spend the rest of the evening discussing how offended you were. And I’m a guy who, while understanding the need to point out good or bad morals in a movie, usually enjoys R-rated comedies. But this is a really bad one.
While the original Chase version was rated R, it was relatively tame for the rating and maintained a sweetly goofy charm throughout even its naughty moments. But the new movie wallows in moral muck from start to finish, making the movie’s few genuinely funny and clever clean moments feel like an afterthought.
The movie follows Rusty (Ed Helms), who has grown up to be a pilot for the cheap airline Econo Air and has no self-esteem about himself and his career status. He does love his family, however, but when neighbors tell his wife (Christina Applegate) about their glamorous trip to Paris, he realizes that his annual family trip to a lake cabin just won’t cut it anymore.
Instead he decides to take them on a cross-country road trip to Walley World, the amusement park his dad took him to as a boy in the original 1983 movie. The movie unfortunately spends about 60 percent of its attempts at comedy on extremely offensive or gross attempts at humor that go too far and or fall totally flat.
There’s no real point in detailing the plot in depth, as it unfolds in episodic fashion. Since he decided to take the trip last minute on Memorial Day week, Rusty is stuck with an Albanian car that has seemingly endless bizarre features that make it a nightmare to drive. The fact that the movie’s writer-directors, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, come up with some truly funny and inventive moments with a car from Albania shows that they do have talent and know better than to wallow in comic muck.
But sadly, scatological or outright sexual humor overwhelms the movie. The family smears themselves in what they think is healing mud while wading in a spring, only to find that they’re covered in raw sewage. The younger son unleashes terrible profanity against both his brother and parents, while also attempting to humiliate him at every turn.
The mom is revealed to have been legendarily promiscuous and an alcohol abuser while in college, and then gets drunk and vomits in front of her sons when she’s accused of having become too sedate as a mom. And the parents stumble across a large group of people waiting to have sex on the Four Corners National Monument, just as they are about to try to do so.
There you have the examples that can be mentioned in a Christian family site – it actually has worse moments. And the movie’s central role of Rusty is badly miscast: not only would Will Ferrell look much more plausible as original star Chevy Chase’s son, but he would have had the same goofy spirit as Chase.
Instead, Helms is alternately too sad-sack or flat-out creepy in many of the scenes, as the movie’s most cringe-inducing moments have him making wildly inappropriate comments by accident to his son as he tries to give him advice on sex or tries to make him look good to a girl, failing disastrously. Instead of being a caring dad, he comes off almost like a pedophile with his comments.
Despite her gross moments, Christina Applegate delivers the movie’s strongest performance and gets some real laughs in the cleaner moments of the movie. The boys who play their sons are also funny at moments, though the parents of the younger actor should perhaps be investigated by child protection authorities for letting a preteen say some truly terrible dirty talk.
There is a brief scene with Chevy Chase when the family visits him and original movie wife/mom Beverly D’Angelo, but both of these actors from the original movie have so little to do, that their roles are pointless. And the strangest moment comes at what should be the movie’s comedic climax, when the action stops abruptly and cuts to the aftermath without remotely touching on the climax’s full laugh potential.
Despite all the trashy moments, the Griswolds do stay together and are brought closer by their trip, so the movie does ultimately endorse the strength of family. However, it comes across as too little too late, and any Catholic viewer would know this limited lesson anyway without having to be taught by the movie.
Anyone with comic or moral taste is advised to take a vacation away from any theater showing this movie.