Taking on one of the Top 10 comedies of all time is no small task. So when I heard that the writing/directing pair of John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein were taking the reins, I was nervous. This was not just any ordinary comedy they were taking on, this was 1983's Chevy Chase classic Vacation written by 80's icon John Hughes and directed by Egon Spengler himself, Harold Ramis. That's like the beginning swimmers class with Michael Phelps as an attendee. However, I loved that Daley & Goldstein had the moxie and stones to face Vacation head on. And I do not count this film as a reboot, remake, re-imagining, re-whatever. This movie is a continuation of a story that has been dormant since 1997 with Vegas Vacation which ironically I reviewed one snowy winter at my Alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All that aside, in a summer with nary a belly laugh let alone a chuckle, Vacation is damn good and I have already made a note to pre-order it once its available on Amazon. Because God knows the world could use a little more laughter after in this world especially considering I screened Vacation right after the abortion that is Fantastic Four. It's been three days but I still am waking up screaming.
First off, I love Ed Helms. Here is a guy that has paid his dues and more some in both NYC and LA and has established him as an outstanding comic actor after his breakout roles in The Office and then The Hangover trilogy. Taking on the role of Rusty Griswold and the mantle of a comedic icon in Chevy Chase is no small task and it actually makes me wonder just who else might have been up for the part. Still, Ed Helms is the perfect choice for Rusty and for his wife, who better than another sitcom staple and major hottie, Christina Applegate as Debbie. Although she seems like your average stay at home mom, there are little snap remarks she makes throughout that had me thinking, "this is not the life she really wanted."Along with their two sons, they live a pretty quiet life in the suburbs of Chicago. Their two kids, Kevin' and James are a God damn riot. Well, actually it's the younger one Kevin who just annihilates his older brother for three-quarters of the film. Kevin is ruthlessly funny as he plays prank after prank on James even cock-blocking what looked to be his first kiss at a rest stop. The little pisher goes so far as to take his older brother's guitar, his prized possession, and write in a Sharpie, "I have a vagina." The kid is ruthless--I loved him.
The first third of the film gives us a taste of what the Griswold family is like in their home base. While taking a pilot pee break, Rusty accidentally molests a very hot airline traveler several times because of turbulence that had me cracking up because he does it with the same, "I really didn't mean that" demeanor of his father. After a family dinner with some neighbors, with a cameo by Keegan-Michael Key, Rusty seems to have a revelation that he is just not connected to his family anymore. The annual summer trip to the boring log cabin this summer is just not going to do it for him, Rusty wants what he had. He wants the road trip, the mishaps, the run-ins with the law--he wants to go to Walley World. And who the Hell wouldn't?!?
His family is reluctant to sit in the car on the trip from Chicago to Southern California where Rusty and his Dad almost touched glory before being told: "Sorry folks, the parks closed!" A part of us all died at that classic scene in '83 but Rusty and the new Griswold's are determined to do it right this time. From the time the two garage opened, I thought, "No, it can't be!!" And it wasn't. No Family Truckster this time around but Rusty got a heck of a deal on the 2015 TARTAN Prancer that is described as "The Honda of Albania.' And this car, I swear is damn funny. It has a complicated tablet of buttons that even includes a Swastika, but they have no clue what any of the buttons is for. At one point while Rusty is driving, the front driving seat rotates to the back seat while driving so he can have a conversation with his sons while driving! It has to be seen to be believed.
It definitely was nice to see an R-rated comedy for once in what seems like years. There are a lot of sexual shenanigans going on between Rusty and Debbie that first comes in one of the sleazy motels they choose to stay the night. When they decide to have some fun in the shower, they discover the world's largest tuft of different colored pubic hair on the planet. I'm telling you guys, it was quite the scene. Then of course as they get further West, the couple decide that they want to have sex at the legendary "Four Corners" that is the one spot that touch four states so that they can die saying they had sex in four states at once. Turns out, this is a pretty popular rite of passage amongst those on road trips. There are at least 15 couples arguing over who's next when cops from all four states begin bickering who's jurisdiction this is. Hilarious.
What would be a Vacation movie without checking in with younger sister Audrey just a few hours after the Griswolds waded in actual shit and toxic waste mistaking it for a hot spring. Audrey played by Leslie Mann is very spacey now and is just happy to be married to Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth) in a semi-extended cameo as weatherman Stone Crandall who thinks that he is some kind of local superhero because he caught a slight tornado that *may* have killed 2000 people. A drunk Audrey continues, "my husband almost stopped Pearl Harbor!" When Rusty tried to prove his meddle the next morning at 5 AM and help Stone herd the cattle on their ranch on ATV's, I laughed out loud so hard I thought I might have offended some of the vegetarians in the other row. Rusty literally destroys a steer, driving straight through and it is gross, disgusting and the gut-busting laugh I needed.
I forget at which part it was, but It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day makes a cameo as a just broken up with Chad, the white water rapids instructor. Just before the lesson, Chad hears from his fiancee that they are over and he is so distraught that he takes the Griswold's on what could have been their final whitewater journey. I know one thing for sure, it was definitely Chad's.
As the journey comes to its final act, I was actually sad because there was just an overwhelming feeling of family after the TARTAN Prancer went total FUBAR. Through a friendly trucker (I won't ruin the cameo of the truck driver or the running DUEL joke throughout the film), Rusty and company make it to Clark and Ellen Griswold's B & B near San Francisco. God did Chevy get old. And God did Beverly D'Angelo have a ton of plastic surgery. Still, good to see them. While Chevy does the same old schtick that he's been doing before I was my Dad's fastest swimmer that day, it is cathartic to see the handoff of the original Family Truckster from father to son. The new Griswold's are going to Walley World so what can go wrong? I'll let you figure it out but I haven't laughed like this in a good long time. And once you hear those first beats of "Holiday Road," I dare you to not start bopping your knee. Go ahead, try it.