Playing out as a reworked version of the original, Vacation might disappoint some diehard fans of 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. Not because they don’t think it’s funny, and not because Chevy Chase is all but absent from this film, but because it uses the formula from the original and places its own events within that formula. But honestly, that’s a stupid reason not to like a movie. If they had changed it to make is completely different, fans would’ve hated that too.
Instead of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) at the helm of the madness, it’s his son, Rusty (Ed Helms), who tries to relive his childhood vacation across the country to the amusement park, Wally World. While the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Helms brings his own unique flair to the screen. He’s optimistic like his father, but he also lacks a lot of the confidence and cojones.
Rusty’s wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate provides a good counter-act to Rusty’s ridiculousness, but where the film waivers is when we realize that Rusty and Debbie’s relationship doesn’t have the sweetness and loyalty that Clark and Ellen have with each other. But it’s a Griswold couple for the new generation.
And so is the humor. It mixes the tone from the old films while keeping the comedy at a more modern and relatable level. The jokes don’t hold back at all, which gives Vacation that edge of today’s comedies.
The framework of the story may be recycled, but the scenes within are really well-written, and the jokes are borderline genius. In one of my favorite bits of the past few years, Rusty and Debbie have the bright idea to make love on the four corners monument (the marking where four states come together at a single point). They get cited for indecent exposure, but four police officers–one from each state–argue their jurisdiction. It turns into a warfare of pride between the officers–as the two leads sneak away. Another highlight is the Griswold’s blue Albanian minivan that provides some of the best laughs of the movie.
But the real strength here lies within the direction. They get the best performances out of each of their actors, and it’s the subtle reactions from them that get some of the biggest laughs. I guess that’s what happens when you hire the screenwriters to direct the film as well.
The laughs literally don’t stop throughout the film’s entirety. The writers have constructed such a well-paced romp that the audience is eating from the palms of their hands. Vacation is one of the most consistent comedies that I’ve seen in awhile–another improvement on the original.