Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) is determined to drive across the country with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), in order to spend some quality family time at Walley World, just like he and his sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann), did with their parents, Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), when they were younger.
I have a lot of feelings about remakes—some of them meh, most of them ragey. Remakes where films are reconcepted can sometimes be successful and enjoyable if there’s a new story, a new setting, a new group of characters, and a new style of storytelling or filming. That is, a film that updates the overall idea (so you’re not paying for the same product twice) yet still maintains the feeling of nostalgia. But more often than not, the remake directly rips the elements of its original film and ends up coming across so outdated and half-assed that you’re pissed you spent money to see the same thing again.
Vacation is the latter. Having a grown-up Rusty (Ed Helms) represent the Griswold family this time around wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, it was a great sell to get people to the theater. Helms is a funny actor, and keeping the tie-in with the original Vacation films without having Chevy Chase step back into the lead role again meant the film was taking a new angle.
But, unfortunately, the remake falls right back into the old ways. A family vacation to Walley World. The lovable oaf father who manages to screw up the trip every way possible. The fighting children who you’d rather kill than watch another minute. The sexy wife who really has no quality other than being attached to a dumbass husband. It’s the same goddamn movie again. Hell, even some of the scenes feel like they’re taken directly from the original.
For example, the scene where the hot woman pulls up next to the Griswold car in her sports car. In the original, it’s Christie Brinkley flirting with Chase’s Clark. In the remake, it’s Hannah Davis flirting with Helms’ Rusty. The only difference is that the remake attempts a parody with a “hit by oncoming traffic” joke. Funny, right? Not really, considering Family Guy made that joke in 2007 (which means The Simpsons probably did it back in the 90s). And that’s the biggest problem with this movie—it feels behind on just about everything.
National Lampoon’s Vacation came out in 1983. In case you forgot, it’s currently 2015. That means these movies are separated by more than 30 years, so you’d think the remake would’ve gotten an update story-wise and comedy-wise to reflect the current time and society.
It didn’t. It kept to the same white suburban family mix of dad, mom, and two kids. Which, yes, the movie kept because they wanted to use Rusty Griswold. But this isn’t 1983. More and more families are blended, multi-racial, divorced, same-sex, single, etc. If you want to tell a good story about families and also get people to relate more with family-related comedy in 2015, you need to show them what a family looks like now. Why couldn’t Rusty have been a divorced dad taking his kids on a road trip to bond? Or even be remarried and have stepkids who don’t get along with him? Seriously, any version would’ve been better than just sticking to the previous formula.
Even the jokes were the same low-level shit we’ve seen from every other comedy within the last ten years (Poop jokes again?). And no, the movie wasn’t funnier because Rusty gave a speech about how the “new vacation is totally different from the old vacation and can stand on its own.” This isn’t like 22 Jump Street, where the whole movie was self-aware jokes about sequels (to the point of meta-consciousness). This was nothing more than the screenwriters playing the “self-aware comedy” card to pretend like this remake wasn’t unoriginal, lazy, and (for the most part) unfunny.
Are there still funny moments? Of course. I won’t lie and say I never laughed. The scene where the Griswold family white-water rafts with Charlie Day’s depressed, recently-dumped instructor trying to commit suicide is absolutely hysterical. As is the scene where Rusty and Debbie (Christina Applegate) try to have sex on the four corners state mark, resulting in a Mexican standoff between the Arizona (Kaitlin Olson), Utah (Tim Heidecker), Colorado (Nick Kroll), and New Mexico (Michael Pena) police officers who guard the spot.
Overall, Vacation is another remake of an ’80s film that’s unable to capture what made the original the classic it is. If you see this movie, you’re essentially paying to see a lesser version of the classic. It’d be like drinking New Coke and trying to convince yourself that it tastes like Coca-Cola Classic. It doesn’t. Stop giving production companies your money in the name of nostalgia, and go rent the original film.
For my radio review of Vacation on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 28:48 mark).