Reviewed by Jade pepper
If Hollywood's recent fixation for re-making the great films of yesteryear is going to pan out in the same vein as it did for writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John F. Daley's Vacation, we are most definitely in for a grim, cinematic misadventure indeed. Piggybacking as a remake/sequel of Harold Ramis' National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Vacation's refusal to refresh and revitalize its original is blatant, even from its shamelessly derivative opening title sequence, displaying a montage of "happy" holiday postcards, some of which capture key moments of the significantly more substantial original.
Vacation depicts Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), a put-upon, sub-par pilot, who, in an effort to strengthen his relationship with his two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), and to repair his brittle marriage with his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), decides to embark on a road-trip to Walley World theme-park, just as he had done during his childhood with his parents and sister in Ramis' original. Helms' ever-perky and endlessly optimistic demeanour as Rusty jeopardizes his relatability from the outset, becoming no more than a gross, one dimensional exaggeration of his break-out role, as Andy Bernard in The Office. Worsened by Applegate's forgettable performance as Debbie Griswold, the cast mindlessly spout lines of dialogue, as if they need to hit comedic punch-lines rather than have an actual, believable conversation. This inevitably disqualifies any potential for genuine character development and reduces each role to mere stereotype e.g. the long-suffering wife, the boisterous son etc.
Goldstein and Daley take full advantage of the young brothers, James and Kevin, in their ability to expel deliberately infantile lines without consequence, but this becomes particularly problematic when such immaturity begins to extend to the adult characters also. There's only so much one can take of relentless and tiresome lines such as "James has AIDS!" and "I have a vagina" until one begins to question why they haven't instead opted for a film whose comedic impetus does not solely rely on cheap and crude laughs. The film pathetically attempts to squeeze some sort of hilarity out of nearly every taboo in our modern society; incest, rape, cannibalism, pubic hair, all manner of bodily fluids and genital jokes (as quite tastelessly literalized by Chris Hemsworth's character, Stone Crandall, in a scene too memorable for all the wrong reasons), all twinned with a seemingly pointless mention of a swastika for good measure.
Vacation's efforts to retain the charming slapstick element of the original is severely disadvantaged by its timing; the film's pacing is not sharp or snappy enough to accommodate many of the jokes, instead leaving a lot of dead, awkward silences that confuse instead of entertain. Similarly, many of the jokes are painfully drawn out and thus, bled dry of any potential humour.
While the majority of visual and dialogue-driven jokes fall flat throughout, the film's recurring gags and call-backs do occasionally manage to raise a smile, especially with reference to Stone's incessant use of "faucet analogies" in every given situation. One cannot help but reference the original when talking about the virtues of this rendition, as the film's best elements are merely copied and pasted from the past. It is worth noting that the most poignant scene in Vacation (where Rusty and Debbie discuss their marriage) functions merely as an homage to the first instalment, a feature that significantly undermines the emotional charge of the scene and renders it as highly contrived instead.
However superficial the film may seem to viewers unfamiliar with the original, avid fans of Ramis' rendition will succeed in getting more enjoyment out of Goldstein and Daley's contribution, especially in light of the innumerable easter eggs, hyper-conscious references and nods within, the most significant and delightful of which are the brief cameos by the ever-charismatic Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo, reprising their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold respectively. By the film's end, the directors' intentions are clear; to endeavour to relive and re-capture the force of nature that was National Lampoon's Vacation but this aspiration is lost somewhere along the way in the remake, amidst the crude humour and uninspiring frame-by-frame imitation of various scenes and plot points. Vacation is a film tailored only for the immaturely humoured and perhaps, for those viewers who wish to momentarily switch off their brains to intentionally avail of some insubstantial, lazy entertainment. Either way however, one thing's for certain..... Vacation is a gruelling undertaking, that'll have you asking "Are we there yet?" until the very end.