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Review: ‘Vacation’ Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth, And More

Review: 'Vacation' Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth, And More

The saying goes that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. However, having been through more than his share of trips gone wrong, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) advises his son Rusty (Ed Helms) that sometimes the journey sucks so you can better appreciate the destination. But no matter which way you look at it, sequel and franchise reboot “Vacation” doesn’t offer a worthy journey or destination for audiences. Carelessly crass, and yet enthusiastically performed, the film does at least offer the curious spectacle of witnessing strings of jokes energetically thud in a movie that’s not worth the commute to your nearest multiplex.

The premise is fairly straightforward: seeking to forge a better bond with this wife and sons, Rusty decides that for the next family vacation, they will recreate the road trip he took to Walley World theme park as a kid. That’s about it. Screenwriters and directors Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley essentially construct a series of setpieces to comedically interrupt the Griswolds as they journey from point A to point B. However, filling the shoes of John Hughes who penned the original “Vacation” is a task not easily done, and missing from the pages of this movie is an underlying sense of heart, and anything resembling a thoughtful approach to humor.

It doesn’t take long to establish that “Vacation” prefers to lean toward crude rather than crafted, and it’s hard to understand why Goldstein and Daley choose this road, other than it’s probably an easier way to earn cheap laughs. However, the filmmakers often don’t know when is enough, hoping that the more they pour it on, the funnier it’ll be. This is no more apparent than in the portrayal of Kevin Griswold (Steele Stebbins), Rusty’s youngest son, who bullies his sensitive older brother James (Skyler Gisondo), and has a swear word laden retort for any situation that arises. And white initially somewhat amusing, Kevin quickly becomes one of the most grating elements of the movie, a single note of obnoxiousness, that loses steam almost as quickly as it arrives.

The air being quickly let out of the tires is a continual feeling throughout “Vacation,” which is peppered with able performers left flailing with the material given to them. Somehow, this a movie that manages to make even Keegan Michael-Key unfunny. Chris Hemsworth, popping up as Rusty’s conservative, beef-loving, big dicked, brother-in-law, exudes charisma and potentially promising comic talent that is wholly underserved. And the directors can’t even figure out how to get Tim Heidecker, Nick Kroll, Michael Pena, and Kaitlin Olson together for a scene and use each of their specific set of funnyperson skills to the best effect. Ed Helms is largely forgettable in the lead, but perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is with Christina Applegate, a proven hand with comedy, who is left mostly to play exasperated beside the antics of Rusty. It’s not just the screenplay that fails the movie, but Goldstein and Daley, who handcuff the best instincts of the gifted players they are given to work with.

Even the film’s musical choices, an element that one probably would normally not pay much mind to in this kind of movie, are sometimes strikingly strange. Hired to score the film, you don’t hear much of whatever Mark Mothersbaugh composed for the picture, though when it does come to the fore late in the third act, it’s so tonally at odds with the rest of “Vacation” the effect is jarring. And while there are any number of songs that come to mind to soundtrack a family pulling out of their driveway for a grand adventure, Julian Casablancas‘ “11th Dimension” is not one of them, as good as that tune is.

Vomit, rimjobs, pubic hair, gloryholes, pedophiles, AIDS….all are subjects addressed or tossed off in this film which often plays like a graduate from the Seth MacFarlane school of comedy. However, like the “Ted” and “Family Guy” creator, Goldstein and Daley don’t have the maturity or unique insight to make handling that kind of material remotely interesting or funny. Much like Kevin Grisworld, the writers of this movie act like young children, saying a dirty word if only to watch the reaction on the faces of adults. However, that sort of juvenile behavior becomes wearying quite quickly, both in real life and in this film.

“Vacation” kicks off with a lengthy credit sequence, set to franchise staple Lindsey Buckingham‘s “Holiday Road,” in which a series of wacky and rude vacation photos flip by the screen with each credited name on the production. The effect, which carries through to the movie itself, is like scrolling through a Reddit or Imgur gallery of photos, where after wasting fifteen or twenty minutes mindlessly checking out other people’s momentary misery, you’ve barely managed a smirk, and wonder why you clicked through in the first place. [D]

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