Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Directed by: John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase
It’s nearly twenty years since the Griswold family last ventured out on holiday, pitching up in Vegas for the fourth in a series showing heavy signs of mileage at the time. With Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo relegated to cameos, Vacation jumps forward a generation as young Rusty, all grown up and in the same rut that drove his father Clark to take the wife and kids cross-country to Walley World, treads a nigh on identical path to that of his teenage self in the 1983 original. While this fourth sequel is little more than an inferior remake, there are enough laughs to get them from Chicago to the west coast.
Stepping in for Chase, Ed Helms takes the baton as the new hapless family head dragging wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), on a torturous journey full of bonding, car crashes, sewage and Seal: an awful lot of Seal. It’s the threadbare plot of the original without the leftfield jolts that turned it into such a classic.So many jokes are little more than call-backs to past events. Some work well, notably the attractive woman in a red sports car gag, others limp along having long since passed the point at which they should have been put out of their misery. Thwarted parental sex pops up far too often and Rusty even apes his father by walking recklessly into the desert when it all gets too much.
There are two things working in the favour of writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. They have a great cast to play with and a flair for over the top chaos. In what amounts to an hour and a half of sketch comedy, a number of set-ups fall flat, but there are successes along the way. A gleefully crude dip in steaming waste and a midnight tryst on the four states line are executed perfectly. The successes come by often enough to paper over dips.
Even when Vacation stumbles, the cast battle gamely to get it upright again. Helms’ wide-eyed naivety and Applegate’s jaded cynicism marry up well, and if Gisondo is on a hiding to nothing with his wet blanket of a character, Stebbins smirks his way admirably through Kevin’s cruel exploits. There are also a number of cameos achieving the same mixed results as the rest of the film. Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth appear to be having more fun than anyone watching as Rusty’s sister and attractive conservative brother-in-law but elsewhere there are hits, especially Charlie Day’s scene stealing masterclass as a distraught white water rafting guide.
Try as they might, none of them can eclipse the real star of the show, the Griswold’s rented Albanian car, the Tartan Prancer. Both over-engineered and dangerously inept as a vehicle, it’s the running joke that keeps giving. Looking ridiculous, driving atrociously, and packed full of random buttons that serve no possible purpose in a consumer vehicle, it’s a motorised death-trap complete with aggressive Korean Sat Nav. The Prancer is Vacation’s fall-back when the going gets tough, one that’s required too often.
Even their ropey vehicle is a no more than an updated rip-off of the original. Vacation doesn’t do enough to establish its own identity, content to coast on past glories. Thankfully for this patchy series, the updated edition chooses to steal from the best.
Vacation is released on DVD on 14th December. The disc also contains deleted scenes.