Return to Wally World – A Review of Vacation

11191450_oriI was not prepared to like this movie at all. All I had heard from critics was that this was a soulless, gruesome raunch-fest. But a friend of mine insisted that I at least see it because he really liked it, so I relented. I needed something to write about for this week, anyway.

I was actually a little surprised with myself. I’m not usually into comedies of the gross-out variety, but there were many moments when I found myself giggling like a crazy person. Yes, it does take the humor a bit too far in many cases, but it’s also got a good heart that actually recalls the feel of the original.

Feeling that his family has fallen into a rut, enthusiastic dad Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) wants to take his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and his sons, awkward dreamer James (Skyler Gisondo) and foul-mouthed bully Kevin (Steele Stebbins), on a family trip to Wally World just like his dad Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) did two decades before. As always, madness ensues and the family grows closer together as they endure trial after wacky trial.

Now, the original Vacation is often lauded as a comedy classic (my personal favorite in the series is Christmas Vacation), but the times have changed since then, and I don’t think a contemporary comedy would ever be able to duplicate that particular brand of humor, which would seem naïve or tame to current audiences. The original has nostalgia cloaking it in a shiny haze, so nothing can ever really be as “good” as it, but this one isn’t bad. I do think that perhaps they didn’t need to go to such grotesque lengths to achieve a lot of their comedic moments (some of which feel more awkward than funny) but there are also a lot of genuinely hilarious moments.

The red band trailer for the film spoiled a lot of the film’s most shocking moments, but it’s the more classic-style situational comedy that I really enjoyed. One running gag that had me in stitches involves the bizarre Eastern European import car Rusty rents. Not only is it a poorly-designed deathtrap with a very angry GPS system, the car’s key fob has a puzzling array of mysterious buttons (rabbit, swastika, muffin, etc.) each with its own hysterical function. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that the car steals the show, but I’m also weird, so I don’t know whom you should believe. I noticed I laughed a whole lot more than everyone else in the audience. Second place would have to go to Charlie Day’s brief cameo as the manic rafting instructor. His scene is tiny, but I was nearly in tears I was cackling so hard.

The rest of the humor tends towards the gruesome end of the spectrum. Some of it is funny and some of it just goes too far, but it’s not as bad as some early reviewers made it out to be. The two grossest scenes were actually spoiled in the trailer, so they didn’t have as much of an impact in the film itself because I knew they were coming, which might have actually improved my viewing experience. It’s definitely not for everyone, and it’s not something I’d normally watch, but if you have a strong constitution, it’s worth wading through the grosser moments to get to the good stuff.

One thing I was not expecting was the heart of the film. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate have great chemistry together and their relationship recalls that of Clark and Ellen in that he’s a well-meaning doofus and she loves him anyways, even though she wants to push him off a cliff sometimes. Their moments are well-placed throughout and are genuinely really sweet. I also liked the subplot involving the two brothers, even though it’s very difficult to like Kevin for most of the movie because he’s such a vile child. Part of what made the first Vacation memorable was the genuine love that Clark had for his family, even though dragging them through a hellish ordeal may not have been the best way to express that. The heartfelt scenes are brief and interspersed between all the mayhem, but they do a good job of keeping the movie from spiraling out of control (even though it gets very close to doing just that many times).

My only real problem with the film was with how they dealt with Audrey, Rusty’s sister (played by Leslie Mann here). Mann is a delightful comedian and I wish she was given more to do. Her part seemed to be based around the fact that she married hunky meteorologist Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth) who is the focus of the entire sequence. He’s funny, of course, and steals a lot of his scenes, but I felt like Audrey gets completely sidelined, which is sad because she’s a character from the original movies. I wish there had been a way to give her more of a presence in the film, especially since she’s written as sort of a pitiable,shallow character stuck in an empty marriage. For as irreverent a movie as this is, I was a bit taken aback at how heartbreaking she was. It would have been nice if she had been able to go with the rest of the family, but I can understand why they didn’t. Still, I feel like it was a missed opportunity. I still liked the film, but I feel like she could have made it better.

I don’t know if this movie is for everyone. The original Vacation shares an R rating with this one, but the two feel very different in terms of what they felt they could get away with. I’d call the original Vacation a diet R and this one a full sugar R. So, leave the kids at home. In fact stay home yourselves. This is definitely a “wait until you can see it on Netflix” kind of movie. It’s fun, and makes for a great evening, but it’s not something you really need to rush out and see on the big screen (unless you find yourself curious what Chris Hemsworth would look like with a comically oversized manhood on the big screen…)

So, until next week, revisit the original Vacation and see how well it holds up. I haven’t seen it since I was a teenager, but now I’m curious to give it another go with fresh eyes.

Tah tah for now!

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