If your idea of vacation is locking yourself in an iron maiden, then perhaps the title fits.
Movie Review #995
I dare mention great literature in a review of terrible cinema, but there is, in fact, a moment in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that seems prevalent to this review. Referring to Gatsby’s wild and failing dream to reunite with Daisy once and for all, Nick tells him, “You can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby doesn’t understand. “Why, of course you can!” he replies.
Over the course of several decades, Gatsby became New Line Cinema, Daisy became the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” films, and Gatsby used his large amounts of money to finance the piece of shit that is almost laughably called “Vacation”. To be perfectly honest, the title is the one thing that even comes close to laughable here. Vacations are supposed to be fun and memorable, so it’s rather ironic that a movie called “Vacation” would be one that gives its audience the feeling of being locked in an iron maiden, and one that we beg to forget.
Since I began writing movie reviews, I have seen over 120 movies at the theatre, and not once have I walked out. That was an exercise of restraint with “Vacation”. There were maybe three or four points during the movie where I seriously considered getting up, buying popcorn, and not coming back for the remainder of the movie. I had to keep reminding myself that the movie was shorter than most—even when 99 minutes was beginning to feel like 3 hours.
The trailer for “Vacation” should have stood as an omen for what was to come. Studios can disguise even the worst of movies as mildly acceptable, but it seemed New Line had chosen not to. Now I realize that that wasn’t the case: it wasn’t by choice at all. There were but two remotely enjoyable moments in the entire movie. One was near the end, with the appearance of the Family Truckster. You can imagine my reaction during that scene. It was like watching God raise a movie from the dead, if for only five seconds. One was the appearance of “Holiday Road” over the opening credits. I might have smiled if it weren’t for what was onscreen at the time: a collage of embarrassing family photos, shielded by the titles to appear benign family photos. Every five seconds, a title would disappear and we’d see a father dangling a kid off a speedboat, a little kid squeezing her face in between two fat people, etc. The joke was mildly amusing at first, but it got old quickly, and I ultimately felt bad for the kids in the pictures. Somehow, every one of them was in an awkward or embarrassing position thanks to the stupidity of the adults around them.
“Vacation” was a bad, bad, bad, bad idea to begin with. It follows the next-gen Rusty Griswolds (Ed Helms), who aren’t nearly as interesting, believable, or lovable as the preceding Clark Griswolds (Chevy Chase). It really isn’t about a dysfunctional family anymore. It’s just about a man, a woman, and two boys who don’t seem convincing as a family unit at all. The so-called “family” in “We’re the Millers” was a far more believable family than the one presented here. It seems as though directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley were going for an actor-actress pair who looked similar to Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo (who appear in a shockingly dreadful cameo) rather than a man and a woman who were actually funny. It’s ironic that Ed Helms doesn’t bear as much of a resemblance to Chevy Chase as Christina Applegate does to Beverly D’Angelo (their respective screen wives). Once you realize that Rusty has found a wife who looks way too much like his mother, you almost vomit—and it’s not the first time you get that feeling during “Vacation”.
“Vacation” is an uncomfortable movie—so much that writing this review is beginning to make me queasy, as I recall its smorgasbord of dirty, distasteful, and downright dumb. Some of it is gross, such as that scene where the Griswold family is tricked into swimming in a sewage deposit instead of a hot spring, goes back to their car to find that it everything has been stolen and a penis has been spray painted on the door, and has no choice but to drive to Aunt Audrey’s house covered in human waste. Some of it is downright embarrassing to sit in a theater and watch, such as when Rusty explains to his son James that a “rimjob” is synonymous with a kiss, which leads to every use of the word “kiss” from thereon (including among family members) being replaced with “rimjob.” Some of it is completely and utterly annoying, like Charlie Day’s eyeroll-inducing portrayal of a river-rafting tour guide with a voice pitched even higher than his usual; or James’s younger brother Kevin, who doesn’t stop cursing, because apparently all you need to be funny in a modern-day movie is to have a nine-year-old show up at the random and start shouting “f#%k” like he’s training for a full-time job as a sailor; or Aunt Audrey’s husband (Chris Hemsworth), his fake, Florida Georgia Line-esque southern accent, and his obsession with “faucets” that isn’t humorous in any way. In fact, I don’t think any of “Vacation” was humorous in any way, and I find that rather pitiful. I should have gotten a few cheap laughs, at the very least, but you don’t exactly find any laughter at the bottom of the barrel.