I’ve always thought of the first half of the 80s as sort of a golden age of comedy film: the Not Ready For Primetime Players were branching out into movie careers, guys like Lands, Reitman, and Ramis were really figuring out what they were doing behind the camera, and the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker parody formula hadn’t gotten painfully unfunny yet. National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of the iconic comedies of the era, so my first question when I heard about the reboot was, of course, “Why the fuck would anybody want to do that?” I’m not going to compare a comedy about Chevy Chase going to see a moose to the Mona Lisa, or even Casablanca, but there’s really not much you can do to improve on the original and we’ve already gotten plenty of sequels, so restarting the franchise seems kind of pointless.
But of course I knew I was going to go see it. Why? Three reasons: (1) Even though the sequels are iffy–I personally can either really enjoy them or really hate them depending on what mood I’m in–they’ve all got at least a scene or two that’s always funny; (2) If you know anything about Ed Helms, and especially if you’ve seen him in things like Cedar Rapids, there’s no question that he’s perfect to carry on the Griswold name for Chevy Chase; (3) As someone who was 14 or 15 when Married With Children debuted, my brain is hard-wired to watch any screen with Christina Applegate on it. It’s like a cat/laser pointer thing.
Helms of course plays a grown-up Rusty Griswold, who’s a pilot for a crappy regional airline (motto: “Where we’re trying hard to regain your trust”) whose family isn’t as close and Norman Rockwell-like as Keegan-Michael Key’s. About the same time he’s noticing this, Russ overhears his wife telling Regina King how much she’s dreading their upcoming vacation to the same boring cabin they go to every year. Since he’s apparently never seen a Vacation movie, Rusty decides to shake things up and bring his family closer together by following in his father’s footsteps and dragging his family along on a cross-country road trip to Wally World. Hilarity does its best to ensue and succeeds more often than you might guess. Except for being funnier than I expected, it’s basically the exact movie you imagine when you hear the words “Vacation reboot.”
Just in case you’re wondering about the other Griswold sibling, Audrey (played by Leslie Mann, because for some reason Juliette Lewis will do Audrey cameos in Old Navy commercials but not actual films) is living in Texas with her right-wing weatherman husband and his comically large penis. In what might be the one bit of pure genius in the whole move, the conservative Texan with a weird knack for faucet-related idioms is played by Chris Hemsworth. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but his scenes are some of the funniest despite the fact that they rely mostly on really dumb, predictable jokes and Thor’s terrible attempt at a Texas accent. Clark and Ellen Griswold and even the Family Truckster also get cameos, as do Charlie Day, the Walking Dead Boondock Saint, Ron Livingston, Michael Pena, and a few others.
I enjoyed the movie, but I could easily see most people going either way. If you enjoy the Vacation movies enough that you think another sequel is a good idea, go see it. If you enjoyed the original so much that you’re just going to obsess about how much this one isn’t the original, just skip it so nobody will have to hear you bitch.