Thirty-two years after the release of screenwriter John Hughes and director Harold Ramis’ National Lampoon’s Vacation, co-writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein make their directorial debuts with the new Vacation reboot/remake. The comedy follows in a trend of recent releases like Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys, wherein filmmakers and movie studios are trying to reintroduce older film franchises to a newer audience. It gets a little murky to consider Vacation a reboot because it practically follows the same story beats and premise as the original, following the same formula that made the original Vacation a hit film in 1983. But that doesn’t mean the new Vacation is going to have the same reactions and laughs in 2015.
Vacation follows Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), Clark W. Griswold’s (Chevy Chase) now-grown up son, as he takes his family on a cross country vacation to bring them closer together, much like his father tried to do in the original movie. They even pick the same destination as the original, Walley World, a fictional amusement park. With his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) at his side, the Griswold Family travels to Chicago to California tracing the same route as the original film. It seems very familiar, by design, but the big difference is its cast.
The Debbie Griswold character goes in a different and fresher direction than Ellen Griswold (Beverly D’Angelo). While D’Angelo played a milquetoast and timid wife, Applegate gives her character Debbie some life. Instead of being the voice of reason, she’s more willing to get dirty in the film’s hijinks and schemes. But the problem of Vacation comes from Ed Helms’ Rusty Griswold, who is good hearted, but lacks the same charm and comedic timing Chevy Chase had with Clark W. Griswold. It gets worse with the kids. James is a sensitive and awkward teenager, while his younger brother Kevin is just mean-spirited and annoying. Every moment that Kevin is on screen is so excruciating and ill-conceived that it makes me wonder if the filmmakers had any clue how this character was going register with an audience. Aside from Christina Applegate, who has some real comedic chops, a majority of Vacation is really hard to swallow and watch. And awkwardly shifting in a movie theater seat is not an ideal way to watch a “laugh-a-minute” comedy that Vacation would like to be.
Most of the comedy just doesn’t work, which is odd because the premise sets up its characters to go from crazy moment to crazy moment. It’s one of those movies that starts going downhill after the opening credit sequence, which features real life Awkward Family Portrait-style vacation photos set to the tune of Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road,” which invokes some real nostalgia. There were some genuine laughs and surprises in that opening credits sequence and its a shame that the rest of Vacation doesn’t follow suit.
Vacation never really hits a stride of story or laughs, but a very short set piece featuring Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her husband Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth) provide some chuckles here and there. But it really seems that they’re the standouts in Vacation for a possible spin-off one day. Vacation also has some clever moments where it recognizes that it’s a reboot of an older film franchise, but that self-referential humor goes away as soon as it’s introduced. Notably, Rusty looks at old family photos at the beginning of the film and we see all the different actors who played Audrey and Rusty through the years. Despite that clever streak, it’s no surprise that John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein were also the writers of Horrible Bosses and Horrible Bosses 2, two comedies that are mean-spirited, laughless, and just plain tedious to watch, much like the new Vacation — which is also painful, and ugly.