Rusty (Ed Helms) is now all grown up and needing some fatherly advice from Clark (Chevy Chase). He wanted to follow in his old man’s footsteps by bringing his family together through a road trip to the amusement park known as Walley World, just as Clark did when Rusty was a boy. Things didn’t go as planned (a you know), yet Clark says that the journey sucks with every family vacation. The destination, though, makes it all worth while. In comparison, this new journey — this new Vacation — doesn’t totally suck. But it’s not one that I would repeat.
For those of you who are familiar with the Griswolds, there will be plenty of nods to the original film. If you’re not, I’m talking about the Griswold family from National Lampoon’s Vacation, a road trip comedy from 1983. 2015’s Vacation tries to rekindle that nostalgia by taking the same basic premise (a disastrous trip to Walley World) and focusing on the little boy from the original, now a father of two. Instead of Beverly D’Angelo (though she makes an appearance in this, as well), we have Christina Applegate’s Debbie, and instead of a sister-brother pair, we have Kevin (Steele Stebbins) as the foulmouthed, bullying little brother of James (Skyler Gisondo), a sensitive, dream-journal-writing, guitar-playing high school student. In a meta scene reminiscent of 21 Jump Street, Rusty acknowledges that there is an “original vacation,” but he says this “new vacation” will stand on its own. Truth be told, it does stand on its own, but like any vacation that consists of long car rides with the family, it’s not without its trials and frustrations.
Rusty’s life has hit a rough patch. His work as a pilot for a commuter airline isn’t all that glamorous, his wife is growing bored with the same song and dance, and his sons constantly fight. In flipping through his old photos, he remembers the good times he had while traveling to Walley World with his mom, dad and sister. So he rents the only family-sized car he could find at the last minute on Memorial Day weekend — a European mini-van of sorts with way too many buttons and oddball accessories — and he sets out for a repeat journey with his own family. Along the way, he encounters an aggressive truck driver, a “natural spring” full of waste, a drunken sorority obstacle course, some white water rafting, first loves, pedophilia and rim job jokes, Chris Hemsworth’s monstrous package, cow cannibalism, outdoor sexcapades, and… unfortunately, lots more.
These scenarios are not the wittiest things ever put to page, and most are just rehashing what other films – starting with the original Vacation -- have done before. Admittedly, many are funny. There’s something hilarious about Applegate psyching herself up for a drunken obstacle course, only to vomit the pitcher of beer she just downed, and you can’t help but laugh when you hear a little kid like Steele, 11, dropping F-bombs left and right, while bitchslapping his older brother for saying pretentious hipster nonsense. But even those instances of comedy feel tired when we’re on the Griswold’s eighth or ninth side excursion, and you realize the formula hasn’t changed: they’re on the road; they make a pit stop; things don’t go as planned; they’re back on the road. It makes for a two-hour movie that feels a lot longer.
Worse still, none of these scenes seem all that specific to the story, or to any sort of character development. Though certain events are forced to happen towards the end of the road trip — for instance, the white water rafting is in the final half, because the Grand Canyon is closer to Walley World — it feels as if the writers just threw all the scenes up in the air and went with the order in which they landed. Even now looking back, there would be no real harm to the story if we were to hypothetically change their order. That shouldn’t be the case.
The characters can also feel similarly overdone. Helms’s Rusty is nothing that we haven’t seen before from a Mr. Positive type who maintains his happy demeanor despite all that goes wrong around him. His inevitable snap isn’t all that satisfying because it only lasts a few moments, and there wasn’t that much of a visible buildup. The same goes for Steele’s Kevin, who was one of the funniest parts of the film, but even a child can only say “fuck” and “bullshit” so many times before you’re tired of hearing them. Even the supporting characters were underwhelming. While it’s nice to see Norman Reedus, Charlie Day and Keegan-Michael Key pop in, they weren’t all that necessary. Without spoiling anything, Reedus’s role is there merely to reference something in the original film, and Day’s character is one of many examples that showcase Vacation’s unnecessary R rating. If only the writers had been a bit more creative rather than relying on cursing and overdone gags for laughs, the film could have easily gotten down to PG-13.
We all joked heading in to the theater that Chris Hemsworth’s Thor bulge would be the best part about Vacation. I just didn’t expect it to be true.