Rusty Griswold may have grown up but the humor of the movies that made him famous hasn’t. “Vacation” is a reboot of the “National Lampoon Vacation” series that featured Chevy Chase as the hapless patriarch, Beverley D’ Angelo as his wife, daughter Audrey (played in different movies by Dana Barron, Dana Hill, Juliette Lewis and Marisol Nichols) and Rusty (played variously by Anthony Michael Hall, Jason Lively, Johnny Galecki and Ethan Embry in different movies).
In the new film Ed Helms plays Rusty as a sweet-natured adult, father to James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) and husband to Debbie (Christina Applegate). The family is falling apart and on the eve of their usual summer holiday, a boring trip to a camp that everybody hates, Rusty decides to try something different to bring his family together, a recreation of a childhood road trip with his parents to Walley World.
Anyone who remembers the original 1983 film knows the 2500-mile trip turned into a vacation from hell. It seems Rusty learned nothing from his father’s ill-fated journey. “From the moment we left nothing has gone right,” says Debbie. “Can’t you just admit this was a mistake?” From an angry GPS and a menacing trucker to an inappropriately well-endowed brother-in-law and an open sewer, the trip is fraught with problems.
If not for certain brand of anatomical humour “Vacation” would be about 12 minutes long. Remove the swearing and jokes about sexual acts—Wait! Don’t forget the bodily functions!—there wouldn’t be much going on here. Not that I’m a prude. Far from it. Some of it is genuinely funny. It hits many of the same notes as the original—the father’s verbal break down the extremely unseemly relatives (Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth)—but doesn’t have the same good-natured feel. It tries hard to inject some heart into the story in the last half hour but up until then is rough around the edges. Need convincing? Check out the fate of the pretty motorist in the sports car.
Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have a tendency to give away the jokes too soon, but Helms and cast sell the jokes, no matter how raunchy. Particularly good are Gisondo as the sensitive son James and Hemsworth who displays an until now unseen sense of comic timing.
Ultimately “Vacation” is about bringing the Griswold family back together, but it’s not a family movie.