Most of us haven’t strapped a dead relative to the roof of our cars at any point.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t connect with “Vacation,” the 1983 comedy starring Chevy Chase as a flustered father forced into that scenario. Yes, the film pushed the boundaries of logic, what with that airborne station wagon and the aforementioned relative. It all went down with a sense of family and reasonable behavior.
That’s where the new “Vacation” all but abandons the source material. The remake offers crude, over-the-top set pieces strung together in a sloppy road trip template. Just because you keep playing Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road,” the original’s unofficial anthem, doesn’t mean you’ve captured its spirit.
Writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein of “Horrible Bosses” fame wouldn’t know how to tease jokes out of characters if they followed a paint-by-numbers kit. What we’re left with is a fine leading man, Ed Helms, surrounded by strained attempts at R-rated comedy. A few gags connect, but it’s exhausting to wait for them to roll our way.
The new film focuses on Rusty Griswold (Helms), a family man eager to snap his clan out of their vacation funk. So rather than revisit the same ol’ cabin again, he decides to drive to Wally World — just like father Clark once did.
Things go badly from the start, including the Albanian vehicle Rusty secures for the trip. Will this “Vacation” bring the family closer together or tear them apart?
The duo responsible for “Horrible Bosses” favors extreme behaviors at every turn. So the youngest Griswold doesn’t just bully his older brother, he curses with alacrity while his parents do … nothing.
Rusty’s brother-in-law (a game Chris Hemsworth) not only walks around the house in his underwear but poses rather awkwardly.The script likely had so many exclamation points they outnumbered the periods and commas.
Even reliable scene stealers like Charlie Day and Leslie Mann get lost amid the concocted whimsy. Some of the running gags work, like the scene in which the car’s GPS system gets stuck on a frenzied Asian dialect and can’t get unstuck. Others just make no sense, such as when the family mistakes a sewage pond for a hot springs retreat. And there’s nothing funny about Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose” song, no matter how many times the film lets Helms sing it.
Even reliable scene stealers like Charlie Day and Leslie Mann get lost amid the concocted whimsy.
Yes, the original Griswolds (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo) make an appearance, but it’s for precious few yucks rather than a generational baton pass. Some jokes are suggested without any follow through. For example, the Griswolds lament that Hemsworth’s character is conservative, but those waiting for some sort of payoff for that declaration will have to hope for a sequel.
“Vacation” addresses the obvious question greeting the new film early on, when Rusty says in a pure meta moment, “This new vacation will stand on its own.”
What it will likely do is force movie goers to re-watch the original as a reminder of what the fuss was all about.