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Movie Review: Vacation
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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Vacation, starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate

Vacation
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Writers: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Beverly D’Angelo, Chevy Chase, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Charlie Day
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R | 99 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2015

“I just thought we could sing Seal together, like normal families do.”

Following in the footsteps of his father Clark (Chevy Chase), a grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) surprises his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their kids, Kevin (Steele Stebbins) and James (Skyler Gisondo), with a cross-country trek to America’s favorite family fun park: Walley World. As you might imagine, everything that can go wrong, does.

Written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses), Vacation is the fifth theatrical installment in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series. Believe it or not, the character of Rusty Griswold has been played by six different actors: Anthony Michael Hall, Jason Lively, Johnny Galecki, Ethan Embry, Travis Greer and Ed Helms.

Of course, one of the running gags of the Vacation series is the discontinuity of the Griswold children – always played by different actors on a floating timeline. Adding to the fractured continuity is Vacation‘s disregard for shoddy spin-offs like Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure and 2010’s Hell Vacation, where Rusty (Greer) is married with a daughter. If there are hardcore National Lampoon’s Vacation fans out there, they’re no doubt reeling from the convoluted X-Men: Days of Future Past/Terminator Genisys alternate timeline created here.

Like Horrible Bosses, Vacation deals in buffoonery and nastiness, but leans heavily on nostalgia for the beloved ’80s franchise. There are multiple versions of Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road,” cameos by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, and even a throwaway reference to Cousin Eddie. What’s odd about Vacation is how mean it is. The original films – written by John Hughes – are beloved because, while filled with dirty jokes and silly gags, there’s a sweetness at their center.

In the original Vacation, Clark is tempted by an attractive woman (Christie Brinkley) in a red Ferrari. In the new movie, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Hannah Davis plays the Ferrari-driving babe, but the punchline is an explosive head-on collision. There’s also a subplot in which the Griswold family is pursued by a pedophile truck driver who’s also a rapist. Hilarious, right?

The conceit that, despite their shortcomings, the Griswolds are a great family, is shortchanged in favor of dick jokes and shit gags. On the way to Walley World, Rusty and the family visit his sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her husband Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth), a vain TV weatherman with a huge penis who tempts Rusty’s wife with his chiseled physique. Speaking of Applegate, the Anchorman star is more or less wasted here. She does, however, projectile-vomit her way through an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course during a family visit to her college alma mater, so there’s that.

First-time directors Daley and Goldstein aren’t concerned with telling a great story about the American family – Vacation isn’t made to resonate, it’s made to repulse. The film is an exercise in excess, with a million jokes coming at you from all sides in hopes that one of them hits the mark. It’s this all-out approach that Vacation lives and dies by.

There’s some funny stuff here and there, like a sequence involving Charlie Day as a suicidal white water raft guide, and a cameo-filled gag based on the Four Points landmark where four U.S. states connect. These moments are genuinely funny in their imaginative goofiness, but the never-ending onslaught of nastiness numbs the viewer and lessens the impact of the outrageous acts on screen.

Overall, Vacation is a clumsy, cartoonish farce that provides low-brow laughs and off-color comedy. The filmmakers capture the spirit of the original movies without retreading old ground, but the franchise’s newfound nastiness may leave some cold.

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