By James Hancock July 29th, 2015
If the trailers to the latest Vacation movie have you convinced that the beloved franchise from your childhood is back with a vengeance, start lowering your expectations now. You’ve already seen virtually every great gag the new comedy by directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein has to offer. If you’ve seen every Vacation movie multiple times, quote them drunkenly with your friends, and frequently refer to your own family as the Griswolds, you’re probably going to see this movie no matter what and you’ll likely have a pretty good time at the movies. But the reality is that the new Vacation is only funny for about 15 or 20 minutes of its 99 minute running time. Ed Helms does his best to carry the movie, Chris Hemsworth briefly shows up to steal the show, and newcomer Steele Stebbins is absolutely hysterical as the young Kevin Griswold who is constantly abusing and tormenting his older brother James. But the majority of the movie feels terribly underwritten and filmed on auto pilot as if the filmmakers were banking on nostalgia for the original Vacation (1983) doing all the hard work for them. Screenwriter John Hughes and director Harold Ramis knocked the original movie right out of the park and the movie is justifiably remembered fondly by everyone who grew up watching it on repeat. With that in mind, there is not a single scene or beat to this latest movie that makes me want to return for second helpings and I’m highly skeptical that today’s young comedy fans will remember the new Vacation at all.
I’m not sure if this was the right move or not, but I went into this movie with two vodka martinis swirling around in my brain, genuinely fired up to laugh maniacally. Most would say that I had set myself up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations but I can’t fully put into words what this series meant to me as a little kid. My siblings and I watched Vacation (1983) and European Vacation (1985) countless times on VHS. The fact that European Vacation was vastly inferior did not bother us in the slightest. When we finally got a chance to take our own European vacation many years later, every road block we encountered due to language barriers or our own incompetence would leave us rolling on the floor, howling in laughter at our own Griswold experiences. But when it comes to the latest movie, there are just too many things that simply don’t work. Christina Applegate is about as funny as an orphanage on fire and you can visibly see Ed Helms cringing at the way she delivers some of her lines. But the biggest problem without question is the screenplay. In spite of the incredible cast that includes Ron Livingston, Keegan-Michael Key, Charlie Day, Nick Kroll, Michael Peña, and Kaitlin Olson, their skills as comedic actors are completely wasted on a screenplay that definitely needed a few more drafts and probably a new pair of writers before getting the green light from New Line Cinema. I respect directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein for trying to dust off this concept for a new generation and I enthusiastically applaud them for delivering a movie that fully embraces its rated R content. But as filmmakers these guys have a long way to go before they can hope to live up to the legacy of a comic genius like the late Harold Ramis.
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A little reminder of the greatness of the original Vacation (1983):