Vacation is a remake, no wait, a sequel, no wait a continuity reboot? What’s it called when you take the plot of the first Vacation, but set it after the events of that film, with new-but-not-that-new characters, and basically just do the same stuff over again?
Oh yeah, unoriginal.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Vacation series, the stories centre on the Griswold family lead by the affable-but-blundering Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase. They were fast moving farces that got progressively worse.
This Vacation follows Clark’s son Rusty, played by Ed Helms, who – in order to get his family to bond – decides to carry out the same cross-country trip to theme-park Walley World that was undertaken in the first film.
Ironically, the funniest joke is about how shameless this stolen plot is.
The weird thing is how the film has a complete checklist of things to make the characters likable, relatable, whatever buzzword you want. There’s the rivalry between the decidedly upper-class pilot Ron Livingston and Helms’ Econo-Air pilot.
There’s the marriage trouble, with Rusty feeling inadequate for his glamorous wife Debbie, played by Christina Applegate. There are the neighbours with better lives, the father played by the ever-funny Keegan-Michael Key.
Maybe it’s because it feels a little forced, but none of it works, and we don’t feel anything for the characters. At one point, it looks like the family are about to fall over the edge of a waterfall, and the audience response is ‘Sure, why not?’
That’s not to say it’s not funny. Vacation raises a few chuckles, here and there, all of which have been carefully compiled into a two-minute compilation, masquerading as the film’s trailer.
It’s just not funny enough. There are large sections, intentional and unintentional, in which there’s no laughter at all to be had.
Firstly, there are scenes that only consist of a pop song playing as a car drive through some American town or city. This is meant to be a comedy film and yet there is about 15 minutes overall of car-based non-comedy filler. (That’s probably an exaggeration but not by much.)
What’s worse are the moments meant to elicit laughter that simply fall flat. The usually hilarious Charlie Day is not just bad, but so bad that you’ll have to reconsider whether It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is actually as good as you think it is. Chris Hemsworth is humorous, if a bit obvious, but Leslie Mann is completely forgettable. Maybe she wasn’t even in this movie…
There are two fundamental factors missing from Vacation: energy and structure. Road movies are episodic by nature (they go here, then they go there) but you could literally switch scenes around in Vacation and the result would be the same. It never feels like it’s building toward anything: things simply happen. And most of those things aren’t funny.
There’s a great video essay on Youtube about how Edgar Wright made Hot Fuzz so entertaining. If only the directors had’ve watch that before they start production on Vacation.
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