Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Vacation

Welcome once again to Flashback Summer '15! So far in this summer I've seen a Poltergeist, Mad Max, Jurassic Park, Terminator and now a Vacation film in the theater. What freakin' year is it? Enough's enough, Hollywood. Sure, recycling's good for the environment, but not so good for the cineplex.

Vacation was written and directed by Johathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley.

Goldstein and Daley previously co-wrote The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Horrible Bosses. This is their directorial debut.

John Francis Daley is also an actor, and among other things played Sam Weir in the beloved NBC series Freaks And Geeks.

I wasn't expecting much from this film, so it surprised me when it turned out better than I anticipated. Maybe going in with low expectations helped.

So what exactly is this film? Is a sequel, a remake or a reboot? To quote Bilbo Baggins, "All of them at once, I suppose." It definitely has all the elements of a sequel, since it features characters, actors and numerous references from the first film. 

But it's also a remake, as its episodic nature follows the structure of the first film very closely. What am I talking about, it follows it exactly. Family takes a cross country road trip in a bizarre, sub par vehicle to Wally World. They encounter a series of escalating disasters along the way, and the miserable experience brings them closer together as a family. It's the exact same plot.

We've had quite a few of these remakes masquerading as sequels (requels?) this summer. Terminator Genysis, Mad Max: Fury Road and Jurassic World all followed this dubious, back-to-basics formula. It's a trend I don't particularly care for.

Vacation appears to ignore all the previous sequels, which, given their ever diminishing quality, is probably for the best. With the exception of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the sequels were all pretty terrible.

This is the sixth film in the Vacation franchise, and the first that doesn't feature "National Lampoon" in the title. The corporation stopped lending its name to films in 2007, feeling that the less than stellar nature of many of the movies it promoted was tarnishing its brand. Ironically the very next year the CEO was forced to resign after several stock market fraud and Ponzi scheme scandals.

SPOILERS, I GUESS!

The Plot:
Regional airline pilot Rusty Griswold (played by Ed Helms) lives in Chicago with his wife Debbie (played by Christina Applegate) and his two sons. Older son James is sensitive and awkward, and is constantly being bullied by his younger, psychotic brother Kevin.

After seeing how much fun his neighbors had on their trip to Paris, Rusty decides to shake things up a bit. Instead of the usual boring vacation in Sheboygan, he'll follow in his father's footsteps and take the family on a cross country drive to Wally World. Sound familiar?

Things go wrong from the start as the only car Rusty can rent is a Tartan Prancer (the Honda of Albania), a bizarre hybrid vehicle with two gas tanks, a number of charging cords and a key fob filled with nonsensical and illogical icons. Hmm... a strange looking, low quality vehicle? Something about that seems familiar as well.

As the family passes through Tennessee, they visit Debbie's old alma mater, and Rusty learns she has a dark, sordid and drunken secret, as she was the inventor of her sorority's "chug run." She's intimidated into taking the run again, downing a pitcher of beer and immediately projectile vomiting all over the course.

On the highway, James sees a cute girl his age in a passing car and flirts with her, until Kevin tries to kill him by wrapping a plastic bag over his head. Meanwhile the family is menaced by a trucker who's seemingly stalking them, and may be trying to kill them.

The family stops in Texas to visit Rusty's sister Audrey, who's married to successful TV weatherman Stone Crandall (played by Chris Hemsworth). The visit turns disastrous when Rusty drives an ATV into one of Stone's prize steers, killing it. Visiting relatives on vacation? Again, familiar.

They move on and stop at a motel in Arizona. James meets Adena, the girl he flirted with earlier. When Kevin ruins their interlude, Adena asks why James doesn't stand up to him. James tries to explain that he's taking the high road, and it wouldn't be right to hit a younger child. Adena says he deserves it, and James realizes she's right. He knocks Kevin on his ass a few times and finally shows him who's boss.

Rusty and family then stop at the Grand Canyon to go white water rafting. They're almost killed by a suicidal guide who just found out his fiancee broke up with him. They leap from their raft minutes before it goes over a waterfall with the guide.

Back on the road, the Prancer runs out of gas in the middle of the desert and explodes (familiar!). The family wants to pack it in, and Rusty reluctantly agrees. Just then the mysterious trucker shows up. Rusty fears he's there to run him down, but the trucker reveals he's been following them to return Debbie's wedding ring, which she lost back in Missouri. He then drives them to San Francisco, where Rusty's parents Clark and Ellen (played by original Vacation stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo) run a bed and breakfast.

Rusty finds a marriage help book in Debbie's things, and fears she's going to leave him. She tells him that their marriage isn't over, because he refuses to give up. He decides then and there they'll make it to Wally World in LA or die trying. Clark loans them his Wagon Queen Family Truckster that he inexplicably still owns, and the family drives to Wally World.

They finally make it to Wally World and stand in line for five hours to ride the Velicoraptor, the park's star attraction. Halfway through the ride, it breaks down and they're stranded upside down.

The next day, Rusty sends the boys back home and he takes Debbie to Paris.

Thoughts:
• I wonder why they didn't cast Anthony Michael Hall as the now adult Rusty? Hall's still working, so it seems like he'd be a natural to reprise the role he originated.

Did the studio cast Ed Helms because they think he's a bigger box office draw? That seems unlikely.

It's been a long standing tradition of the franchise to cast new actors in the roles of Rusty and Audrey in each film, so I'm betting that's why they didn't go with Hall.

• Ed Helms seems to be playing his Andy Bernard character from The Office here, which he's done in every film he's ever been in.

I suppose there's nothing wrong with that; after all, plenty of actors have made a good living playing the same character over and over. The problem here is that Helms' awkward, milquetoast manner is completely wrong for Rusty. The Rusty Griswold of the original film was smart, competent and best of all, cool. He always seemed to be several steps ahead of his father Clark. Helms' version of Rusty is a completely different character.

I guess it could have been worse— Adam Sandler was briefly considered for the role. Yikes. The world dodged a bullet there!

• Do you like meta humor in your movies? Yeah, neither do I. Unfortunately Vacation features several in-your-face meta moments. 

When Rusty announces they're going to recreate the "original" vacation, the family says this new vacation seems like the same old thing. Rusty replies, "We're not redoing anything. This will be completely different. Besides, the original vacation had a boy and a girl, this one has two boys." Kevin says he's never even heard of the original vacation, to which Rusty replies, "Doesn't matter. The new vacation will stand on its own."

Note that Ed Helms does everything but turn to the camera and wink in an exaggerated manner during this exchange.

The problem with this "hilarious" little exchange is that this vacation is the same old thing. It follows the original film's structure to the letter, making Rusty look like an even bigger idiot than he already is.

The second meta moment involves Rusty leafing through a photo album and seeing pictures from the various other Vacation films, featuring the many different actors to play both he and his sister Audrey. OK, so that was mildly humorous, but it also pulled me right out of the film.

Maybe in the world of the story, Rusty and his sister were seriously injured and had to undergo extensive facial reconstructive surgery every few years?

• Christina Applegate starred in the Fox sitcom Married... With Children. Oddly enough, Married's first season opening credits included a quick shot from National Lampoon's Vacationfeaturing the Wagon Queen Family Truckster driving down a Chicago highway! That's it in the center above.

• Wondering why there's no appearance by Cousin Eddie in this film? That would be due to actor Randy Quaid's numerous legal woes (including a felony burglary charge). He's currently living in exile in Canada, and will be subject to arrest if he ever reenters the U.S. Oh, Cousin Eddie. Who's emptying the sh*tter now?

• Rusty has some odd gaps in his knowledge of sexual perversions. When older son James asks him what a "rim job" is, he genuinely doesn't know, and says it's probably a term for "kissing on the lips."

Later, younger son Kevin says he saw an opening in the wall of his bathroom stall, and Rusty blurts out, "Sounds like you found yourself a glory hole!" Seems like if you were familiar with one, you'd know what the other meant as well.

• Was there a point to the whole Audrey subplot? Rusty and his family visit his sister Audrey, who now lives in Texas and seemingly has a perfect life. There are cracks in the surface though, as her husband refuses to allow her to get a job. She then disappears completely from the movie, never to be seen again. Later on, Ellen says both Audrey and her Stone are cheating on one another, a detail which seemed completely unnecessary.

Screenwriting tip, guys— if you set up a subplot, you should probably find a way to resolve it and not leave it dangling. And if you're not going to resolve it, then maybe don't include it at all.

• Wow. There's no way to say this without sounding mean, so I'm just gonna come out and say it. What the hell has Beverly D'Angelo done to herself? Her face is virtually unrecognizable. None of us want to get old, Bev, but it's time to lay off the plastic surgery.

Vacation is a reasonably decent followup, or remake, or whatever it is to National Lampoon's Vacation. It doesn't outdo the original of course, but it was better than I expected. I give it a B-.

1 comment:

  1. Hi guys,
    When I search for vacation in Canada this was one of the hardest thing that I have done till now but I have to tell you that
    I am really happy right now

    ReplyDelete

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