I admit to being quite a fan of the Vacation series. Well, the early films in the series. After Christmas Vacation in 1989 things went a little downhill with the dreary Vegas Vacation and the abominable Christmas Vacation 2. So, a few years ago, when I first heard about a remake of the first film in the series, I was slightly anxious. However, once the idea had developed into being a sequel, rather than a remake, I warmed to the idea a bit, even if there was still trepidation. Casting decisions seemed fine (I have a fondness for Ed Helms), and the idea that the film would focus on Rusty Griswald, now all grown up with his own family, trying to recapture some of the magic of that infamous road-trip to Walley World seemed decent enough. The trailer landed, and highlighted that the film was going to be self-aware and meta in nature, acknowledging the disdain shown toward reboots, much in the same manner the recent Jump Street films have, by way of a scene in which the ‘original vacation’ would be used as a comparisson. The trailer amused me enough to hold out some hope, and so when I can to see the film I watched it with a sense of optimism. Suffice to say, the film passed the six-laugh test.
Rusty is now grown up with a dysfunctional family of his own, and a job as a pilot for a cheap airline. When he overhears his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), speaking about how the annual vacation is boring, he decides to change things and relive the nostalgia of his trip to Walley World with his father decades ago. So he gets a family car, loads it up, and they set off on a trip they will never forget..but for all the wrong reasons.
Right from the start I found myself chuckling, as a series of terrible holiday photos were presented on screen to the familiar tune of Holiday Road from the original films. Already in safe territory, the smiles kept coming as we were introduced to the life of Rusty and his family, finding out that the youngest son is somewhat psychotic, whilst the older one is meek and awkward. Once the road-trip begins, the bizarre car Rusty bought for the trip adds some random humour into the mix as the various functions of the car are played with, and the gentle nods to the original films add a nostalgic element for the audience. Much as with the original films, the movie is more a series of sketches strung together by a simple thread, and for the majority of the film it works. There are some moments that don’t quite pan out, and a few gags that are drawn out a bit too much, but the times the gags work more than make up for it all. By the time Charlie Day is introduced as a river rafting guide, I was suffering a bit of pain from laughing. Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Stone, Rusty’s brother-in-law (having married Audrey) in a segment set on their farm is a scene stealing moment for many reasons.
One major flaw in the film, however,is that the trailer campaign gave away far too many punchlines to long-skits, such as the ‘hot springs’ the family bathe in. The result is a scene that would have slowly built to the punch, but has been diminished by already revealing it in the trailer. There are other elements to the skit that work (such as the local and his pet rat), but overall it is another example of marketing serving to weaken the end result.
But don’t let that put you off, as there are plenty of laughs to be had throughout the film, and the appearance of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo towards the end is an added plus. The result is the best Vacation film in the series since the 80s, and I’d probably go so far to say it is a better film than Christmas Vacation was (that film sagged a little in the middle).