Mark Reviews Movies

Vacation (2015)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Keegan-Michael Key, Norman Reedus

MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity)

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 7/29/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 28, 2015

Vacation, the fourth sequel to and a semi-remake of the 1983 comedy with the National Lampoon brand attached to the title, offers a deep bench of comic actors in bit and cameo roles, as is the tradition with the series. They all are upstaged by an inanimate object. That object is a car, but it's not just any car. It's the Tartan Prancer, a fictitious model of Albanian station wagon that has none of the features one would expect in a car but plenty that no one in their right mind would want, let alone need.

This car is a genuine comedic masterstroke—a thing of necessity that has been transformed into something completely and utterly useless. It's an absurd specimen of design. The front and back look identical. There are two small tanks to hold fuel, but it doesn't matter, since any minor output of energy drains both tanks almost instantly. To compensate (One would assume, but assuming is a dangerous prospect with this thing), it's a hybrid, but I would dare anyone to find any outlet in any country that has the proper inputs to fit this car's plug. At its center is a corkscrew.

We learn almost all of this information in the scene introducing us to the car. As much as it would greatly amuse me to document each and every bit of the car's impracticality, it would be unfair to reveal the ludicrous delights of this vehicle. It would be unfair to you, and it would definitely be unfair to the movie, which—if the car is any indication—understands the basic concept of absurd humor but has difficulty putting concept into practice. The major exception to that observation, of course, is the car, which also comes with a multi-button fob that activates such features as detaching the rear bumper.

The series has always been founded on absurdity. Each entry takes a simple one—that any family vacation or get-together can be perfect—and then piles on the failures. In the previous movies, it was patriarch Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase, who makes a brief appearance here) who had every family getaway ruined by a combination of strange people, his own stupidity, and forces of the universe that usually don't care if a family vacation goes well but that seem to have it in for the Griswolds.

In this installment, Clark's son Rusty (Ed Helms) has assumed the mantle of vacation planner for his own clan. He's going to take his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) to Walley World, where all the tomfoolery of the original movie came to its climax. Rusty insists that this new vacation will stand on its own compared to the original. That's a little on the nose, but compared to the missed opportunities and unfulfilled setups that follow, it is at least a joke.

The screenplay by directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein takes the next generation of Griswolds on a tour of the United States, making stops along the way for a series of gags that range from pratfalls mixed with a variety of icky fluids to jokes simply about disgusting things to an attempted suicide and a couple of attempted murders. The potential killer is Kevin, the Griswolds' younger son, who has a sociopathic habit of putting a plastic bag over someone's head and attempting to suffocate the person. One assumes the filmmakers believed a scene of the kid torturing small animals might be pushing it, but that's the vibe we get from him.

The point of all of this seems to be an attempt to test the boundaries of tastelessness. At a time when we seem to have become overly sensitive about humor that pushes those limits, this is, perhaps, an admirable goal (We can probably, sensibly draw the line at a homicidal kid), or it would be if the movie offered us actual jokes, instead of merely passing off broad ideas and incomplete setups as fully formed ones.

We get Debbie trying to run an obstacle course after chugging a pitcher of beer, which results in lots of physical punishment and projectile vomiting. We get a visit to Rusty's sister Audrey (Lesile Mann) and her husband Stone (Chris Hemsworth), which somehow results in an explosion of bull entrails (as well as a lengthy glimpse of the outline of Stone's pants-stretching member while he walks around in his underwear). Rusty has to clean a bloodstain from a motel shower, but the only "brush" available is made up of a certain kind of hair, and the family has a spa session in raw sewage. The gross-out material is gross, but that's about it. A few other sequences, such as a jurisdictional debate at the Four Corners Monument between four police officials from four different states, begin and end with an amusing premise.

That car, though, has to be worth something (maybe half a star on the Irrelevant Rating in Stars system). It's a reliable, well-crafted gag that actually builds from a simple idea. How it came from the same people responsible for the rest of Vacation is a mystery.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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