Hollywood loves rebooting or continuing a long-running series, so it’s not that much of a surprise that Warner Bros. would come around to one of their bigger “classic” comedy series for franchising. In this case, they’ve settled on Vacation, a continuation of the series of comedies that started with National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983. The result fits in with the previous films in the series: funny enough for a Saturday afternoon on cable, but not exactly screaming for a theatrical viewing.
Vacation finds Ed Helms taking on the role of Rusty Griswold, the son in the previous films who found himself at the mercy of father Clark’s (Chevy Chase) various plans. Now, Rusty has a family of his own, and he supports them by working as a pilot for a low-budget airline that specializes in 18-minute local flights. Sensing some dissatisfaction from his family about their annual vacation into the woods, Rusty springs a special trip on them: a recreation of his dad’s car trip across the country to Walley World. The announcement of Rusty’s plan more or less encapsulates the film’s sense of humor, as the family discusses his plan to go on a “new vacation” that’s like the “old vacation.” Rusty stresses that the kids don’t have to remember the “old vacation” to enjoy the “new vacation,” which may be an obvious joke, but also works in a winking, meta way.
As designed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who graduate to directing after co-writing Horrible Bosses and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Vacation copies a lot of the basic setup of the original film in the series, as well as its skewering of the middle class family in America. The incidents the Griswolds find themselves in may be different, but the patriarch’s false sense of confidence remains as strong as ever.
Helms is an interesting choice to take over as head of the family. His typical sweet but doofy persona makes him more sympathetic than Chase’s Clark, who almost seemed to beg for his own misfortune. He’s helped immensely by Christina Applegate as Rusty’s wife, Debbie. The two have a nice chemistry that makes their reactions to each other along the trip believable; Debbie wants to support Rusty and believes that he’s trying, but it’s obvious that she also resents not being able to take a long-promised dream vacation to Paris.
Ultimately, though, Vacation is about the laughs. The film takes advantage of its R rating with a slew of obscenities, innuendoes and generally crass humor. Though the film doesn’t succeed across the board, it does manage to create some genuinely hilarious moments. Many of the moments come from supporting players and cameos from surprising and not-so-surprising people, from comic actors like Charlie Day as a kayaking guide to Chris Hemsworth’s very well-endowed brother-in-law. The only truly disappointing bit of casting, in fact, is an obligatory appearance from Chase and Beverly D’Angelo that suggests Chase may need to retire. Still, while it’s not a total success, Vacation should at least amuse fans of the original series.