Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, and for brief graphic nudity
When it comes to recent comedies, Vacation is virtually the antithesis of Trainwreck. Whereas Trainwreck was smart and plot-driven, Vacation is essentially a series of comedy sketches only loosely tied together by a couple of overarching plot threads related to a family vacation. Fortunately, the ratio of hits to misses is better than 50/50, and I was constantly, at the very least, chuckling my way through this movie. It's dumb fun, but it's still very fun, and while it's not the best comedy of the year, it's far from the worst either. If you're looking to just laugh, and don't care much about characters or story, then Vacation is a great way to beat the summer heat.
A loose sequel of sorts to the original National Lampoon's Vacation, this film follows the grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), now a pilot for a crappy budget airline. At home, he has his increasingly bored wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two sons: the artsy, effeminate teenager James and the adolescent asshole hellraiser Kevin. (Huh.) Feeling that his family is in a rut, Rusty decides to cancel the family's yearly summer trip to their cabin in northern Michigan and instead go on a road trip from their home in Chicago all the way out to Walley World, a theme park in California where his own father, Clark Griswold, took him as a kid. Nostalgia, of course, has clouded Rusty's memories of just how bad the whole experience was, and things go predictably wrong from the moment they leave home in the crappy Albanian minivan they rented for the trip.
The story that follows is mostly inconsequential. There are subplots about James constantly running into a cute girl who's also on a road trip, Rusty and Debbie's marriage being on the rocks, James learning to stand up to his obnoxious little brother, and more, but none of them add up to much; they all serve the jokes, never the other way around. And the jokes fly fast and thick. This is mostly low-brow, raunchy stuff, with enough sex, sewage, and cow guts to gross anyone out, but it's funny more often than not. It was precisely the sort of big, dumb fun I expected from Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, two of the writers of Horrible Bosses (who also directed), and while it didn't live up to that film in terms of huge laughs per minute, it definitely followed in its tradition. In fact, I liked this film more when it was being cheap and dumb; when it tried to tell smarter jokes (such as a self-referential gag mocking remakes that had me groaning more than anything), it proved to be way out of its depth. We get a host of cameos, including Charlie Day as a deceptively cheerful Grand Canyon rafting guide, former Nickelodeon star Elizabeth Gillies as a sexy sorority sister at Debbie's old college, Norman Reedus as a (probably) perverted trucker, a whole bunch of TV sitcom comedians (and Michael Peña) as cops from different states at the Four Corners monument, Chris Hemsworth as the hunky Texan weatherman/rancher who married Debbie's sister Audrey (played by Leslie Mann), and last but certainly not least, Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo reprising their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold, now running a bed-and-breakfast very much in the tradition of Fawlty Towers. They all play exaggerated, one-note caricatures, but it flows well with the almost cartoonish nature of the film in terms of providing plenty of laughs. The same applies to the Griswolds themselves, who all make for enjoyable presences even with their underwritten characters. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate really weren't stretching themselves in terms of comedy, but they're both good at creating likable, entertaining characters, and they taken plenty of opportunities to do what they know best and bring the laughs.
Score: 3 out of 5
This is a movie that's fading out of my memory as I write this, but while it wasn't great, it wasn't bland either. It's an entertaining comedy that does what it sets out to do very well, and that is provide lightweight summer entertainment that'll keep you laughing from start to finish.