In 1983, Harold Ramis and John Hughes made a comedy classic with National Lampoon’s Vacation. The film went on to inspire several sequels. Some of them were good like Christmas Vacation, some of them weren’t so good like Vegas Vacation, and others had no business existing like Christmas Vacation 2. Ramis and Hughes did more than jumpstart a franchise with the original Vacation, though. They inspired a new genre.
Over the past thirty years, almost all road trip movies have borrowed from National Lampoon’s Vacation. Every once and a while, we’ll get a film that puts a unique spin on the premise like Little Miss Sunshine. For the most part, though, we’ve just gotten a ton of shallow imitations like Wild Hogs, RV, and Are We There Yet. We all know which gross-out gags the filmmakers are going to recycle and what life lessons they’re going to shove down our throats. The latest Vacation sequel, which is just as much a reboot, is no exception.
Ed Helms becomes the sixth actor to usurp the role of Rusty Griswold, who’s now a pilot and family man whose every bit as neurotic as his dad. Christina Applegate takes over the role as Rusty’s wife, who was previously portrayed by Alina Phelan in the short film, Hotel Hell Vacation. Of course it’s hard to say if that’s considered cannon. Ah well, the Vacation movies have never been especially consistent in terms of casting anyway. Skyler Gisondo plays their eldest son, a wimpy poet, and Steele Stebbins plays their youngest, a foulmouthed smartass. Afraid that his family is drifting apart, Rusty thinks that another road trip to Walley World is just what they need.
The funniest scene in the movie is where Applegate questions her husband’s motivations with this new vacation, saying that he’s setting himself up for disappointment. However, Rusty insists the new vacation will stand on its own. If Vacation had more self-aware humor like this, maybe it could have stood on its own like 22 Jump Street. Instead, it settles for all the tired clichés we’ve seen a million times before. We get plenty of scenes where the Griswold’s have run-ins with animals, come across unsanitary areas, and engage in awkward sexual ventures. Oh, and you’d better believe that their cruddy vehicle doesn’t survive the trip.
Every now and then, there is a humorous visual gag or one-liner. The actors are all additionally well suited for their roles. Aside from the main cast, Leslie Mann scores a few laughs as Rusty’s sister and Chris Hemsworth shows off his comedic chops as her statuesque husband. Charlie Day kills it as a river-rafting instructor going through a bad breakup. There’s also a pretty funny sequence involving Nick Kroll, Tim Heidecker, Kaitlin Olson, and Michael Peña as four cops having a showdown at the Four Corners. Plus, it is nice to see briefly see Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen again. All of these fun side characters come and go rather quickly, though, and we have to sit through several long gaps that are witless and repetitive.
John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein have written some funny movies such as Horrible Bosses. In their feature film directorial debut, however, they basically go through the motions. They clearly have an admiration for the original classic and sometimes do an admirable job at paying homage to it, but they never figure out how to distinguish the new Vacation. Towards the end of the film, there’s a discussion about what’s more important: the journey or the destination. In this case, neither offers any fond memories that you’ll likely cherish forever.