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Film review: Vacation is a crude nostalgia flick that fails to deliver laughs

The seventh National Lampoon movie, starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, is a disappointedly ill-considered series of stupid and obscene gross-outs lacking heart and substance.
Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise old roles, while Ed Helms and Christina Applegate join the Griswold clan. Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP
Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise old roles, while Ed Helms and Christina Applegate join the Griswold clan. Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP

Vacation Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth

1 star

And so the silly season of summer sequels and reboots turns up its most barrel-scrapingly bad offerings yet.

Fantastic Four is dealt with elsewhere on these pages, but the seventh (seriously?) instalment in the lowbrow Vacation comedy series is a flagrant rehash designed to stoke nostalgia in American audiences misty eyed for 1983’s Chevy Chase original, National Lampoon’s Vacation.

The premise: Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms, from TV’s The Office and The Daily Show) has a mission – to drive his dysfunctional family 4,000 kilometres across the US to fictional theme park Walley World, as his father had attempted to drive him three decades earlier in the original film.

“But I never heard of the original Vacation,” whines pre-teen son Kevin (Steele Stebbins) at the film’s outset. Meta.

“It doesn’t matter, the new Vacation will stand up on its own,” replies Rusty. Wishful thinking.

Along the way the Griswolds – also including disillusioned wife Debbie (Married With Children’s Christina Applegate) and introverted, guitar-strumming older brother James (Skyler Gisondo) – encounter the inevitable calamity upon calamity. They are robbed, stalked by a pathological lorry driver and threatened with arrest for public indecency.

The Griswolds bathe in a pool of raw sewage, murder at least one farmyard animal, and cheat death when a suicidal rafting instructor (played cringingly by Charlie Day) attempts to drown the family in an implausibly tall waterfall.

It all ends with grown men rolling on the floor, fighting over who gets to go on a roller coaster first.

Along the way, first-time writer-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley shamelessly mine new depths of tastelessness in a desperate attempt to garner any kind of laugh – potty jokes, gross-out jokes, sexist jokes, even arguably racist jokes: The car the Griswolds rent is ridiculous – it has two front ends and mirrors facing in the wrong direction – because it is Albanian.

The (presumably fictional) Tartan Prancer car also comes with an indecipherable remote – complete with a “Swastika button” – seriously guys?

Oh, and the GPS gets stuck on Korean, adding plenty of tired don’t-people-from-other countries-sound-funny “jokes”, as the station wagon barks like an enraged military dictator (because that, after all, is what all Koreans surely sound like).

In the end, the vehicle inexplicably drives away of its own volition and blows itself up – an option any sane audience member might be tempted to try by this stage of the movie. Or when we reach the unfathomably poor, obligatory cameo from Chase and his co-star in the original film, Beverly D’Angelo.

In the lead role, Helms is a lumpen buffoon, a fall-guy extraordinaire content to be unsympathetically lifted like a Lego piece from one cringe-inducing butt-of-the-joke situation to another.

At perhaps the film’s lowest point, Rusty emerges covered head-to-toe in blood after running over a bull and is hosed down from a distance by Chris Hemsworth, making a tongue-in-cheek appearance as a randy Republican ranch-hound, who is married to Rusty’s sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann).

The rare moments of genuine humour go to Christina Applegate’s Debbie – a visit to her Memphis student sorority house reveals her decadent days as Debbie-Do-Anything (torching a Taco Bell is the only of her glory-day achievements we can safely print in a family newspaper).

But in nearly every case, jokes with, you know, words and ideas and punchlines are avoided by filmmakers content to rely almost entirely on slapstick – or, worse, the sudden use of a rude word to prod token shocked giggles from imbeciles.

Sparing moments of inanity might muster a laugh, but when they do, expect to feel a deep sense of shame.

There’s a place for every kind of humour in comedy. But even the most basic screwball farces at least attempt to pair the stupid and the obscene with moments of warmth and personality, with characters we care about and stories that engage.

Vacation amounts to little more than a lazy series of lowest-common-denominator set pieces, and gutter-level humour strung together with the wanton carelessness of a blundering, talentless movie brute.

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Updated: August 12, 2015 04:00 AM

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