Sequel to original doesn’t match up

Vacation_pBy Tim Pompey

Vacation
Directed by John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins
Rated R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity
1 hr. 39 min.


 

A sequel? Thirty-two years after the original? Yup, here we go again with a Griswold in charge of the family road trip. Only this time it’s not Clark (Chevy Chase) but his son, Rusty (Ed Helms), driving the car.
Rusty is in a rut in his life. His kids hate him, his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), finds him boring and he’s being bullied by fellow airline pilot Ethan (Ron Livingstone). Rusty flies for a small regional airline. Ethan flies for the big boys and doesn’t mind reminding Rusty about his inferior pilot status.
This year, Debbie wants something different from their typical cabin vacation. What about Paris or London? She tries to give Rusty hints about potential getaways. After all, he is a pilot with some fringe benefits at his disposal.
Then, out of the blue, Rusty gets sentimental and wants to drive, that’s right, drive to Walley World in Los Angeles. From Chicago to L.A. via Texas. What’s that, 2,000 miles or so? What about a free flight and a car rental? Nope. His vehicle of choice? He buys a brand new Albanian SUV called a Prancer.
This is a movie that gives most of its surprises away in the first 15 minutes, then keeps hacking away at the same jokes for the rest of the trip. Little brother Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a foul-mouthed bully who likes to take shots at his sensitive big brother James (Skyler Gisondo). Debbie gets stuck as the stressed-out mother in the passenger seat, and Rusty of course is the spitting image of his obtuse father, Clark.
Here’s the deal with this film: Helm and Applegate are two first-class comic actors who deserve so much better than what they are given to work with in this film. Helms can do comedy (The Hangover) or dramedy (Jeff Who Lives at Home) and so can Applegate (Married with Children, Grand Theft Parsons). All actors have dogs that they appear in; they need to make a living and Hollywood needs to crank them out. But this particular dog seems so unnecessary and uninspired, I had to ask, “Why Ed and Christina? Why?”
Writers and directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein don’t seem to appreciate the gold they’ve inherited and the talent at their disposal. So by the time this film gets to Texas, it feels as if we, the viewers, may not make it to California. The pace is so herky-jerky, and the jokes so uneven that you’re dying for a drop of comedy water to slake your thirsty lips.
Every so often, the hose drips a few drops, but that’s it for awhile. Car vs. semi-truck? That’s not terribly original. Chris Hemsworth as a living cowboy-weatherman-penis joke? Some chuckles there. Guide Charlie Day freaking out as a just-dumped fiancé before he leads a white water rafting trip? Not bad.
The key word here is “more.” What this movie lacks is a sense of comedic timing and sharp writing. This family seems stuck in its misery, and neither writers nor directors do much to lift them up or make it funny, at least funny enough to match up to its predecessor. Even cameo appearances by Chase and D’Angelo are pretty tame. Harold Ramis and John Hughes, please rescue us.
So, is there anything to recommend about this film? Yeah, if you’re sitting around the house bored out of your gourd with nothing better to do, and your kids are driving you crazy and your spouse has lost his or her spice and you need to waste 99 minutes just sitting in a seat watching something that’s only occasionally funny. Or you could just plan your own vacation and have more fun doing it. Not a hard choice, if you ask me.