A fun trip

New “Va­ca­tion” hi­lar­i­ous homage to orig­i­nal

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PROVINCE -

The great Amer­i­can fam­ily road trip seems, in the 32 years since we first met the Gris­wolds, as an­ti­quated a con­cept as ever. Mid­dle class fam­i­lies fly now — de­vice en­abled, ef­fi­ciency ob­sessed and al­ways aware of the out­side world.

Fam­i­lies flew in 1983, too, of course. “Na­tional Lam­poon’s Va­ca­tion” ac­tu­ally be­gins with a bit of a de­bate about air ver­sus ground, but road trips back then, even cross-coun­try ones, weren’t so out of the ques­tion for a fam­ily of four, es­pe­cially when they had two weeks to do it.

There’s beauty and hu­mour, prob­a­bly, in the ways fam­i­lies travel now, but “Va­ca­tion,” a spir­i­tual and lit­eral con­tin­u­a­tion of what John Hughes and Harold Ramis imag­ined three decades ago, isn’t in­ter­ested in the now of it all.

Rather, “Va­ca­tion” is an over­the-top, of­ten hi­lar­i­ous homage to the orig­i­nal from the earnest and tal­ented writ­ing-di­rect­ing team of John Fran­cis Da­ley and Jonathan Gold­stein. It’s also com­pletely di­vorced from the re­al­ity that made the first so per­fect.

In 2015, Rusty Gris­wold (Ed Helms) is grown and liv­ing in the Chicago sub­urbs with his wife Deb­bie (Christina Ap­ple­gate) and sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Steb­bins). They’re mid­dle class in the way that all fam­i­lies are mid­dle class This photo pro­vided by Warner Bros. Pic­tures shows, Chevy Chase as Clark Gris­wold, and Bev­erly D’An­gelo as Ellen Gris­wold, in a scene from New Line Cinema’s com­edy "Va­ca­tion". in the movies these days - you wouldn’t know it from the house, the clothes or their choices. Their life looks as gen­uine as a stock photo.

They va­ca­tion an­nu­ally at the same cabin, but Rusty re­al­izes the rou­tine has be­come a rut. To shake things up he de­cides to recre­ate his own child­hood trek to Wally World, lead­ing to the in­tro­duc­tion of the movie’s best long-run­ning joke: The Tar­tan Prancer.

It’s a ( fic­tional) boxy, Al­ba­nian rental car with cup-hold­ers on the out­side, sui­cide doors, two gas tanks and an iden­ti­cal front and back that de­serves its own billing.

At first it seems like a miss. It’s too os­ten­ta­tious with its odd­i­ties and elab­o­rate key de­vice fea­tur­ing cryp­tic sym­bols on each but­ton (a rocket ship, a top hat, a muf­fin, and a swastika, to name a few). But then we see the bizarre ve­hi­cle in ac­tion, and watch­ing each func­tion come alive is a treat. The mo­ments are crafted with in­vig­o­rat­ing imag­i­na­tion, care, and per­fect goofi­ness.

It’s al­most enough to up­stage the ac­tors — who are fun to watch, even if they’re as broadly drawn as a sitcom fam­ily. The Gris­wolds of ‘83 seemed like peo­ple you might know. These are en­ter­tain­ing car­i­ca­tures.

Still, there is pleas­ant­ness to the fam­ily dy­namic, like when Rusty (a blank sit­u­a­tional slate made pass­able by Helms’ wideeyed charm) at­tempts, quite sin­cerely, to get ev­ery­one to sing along to Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose.” It doesn’t, how­ever, ex­tend to the rev­e­la­tion of Deb­bie’s “do any­thing” soror­ity past, an odd and un­suc­cess­ful tan­gent meant to give Ap­ple­gate some­thing more phys­i­cal to do. It fal­ters when you re­al­ize the joke is just fall­ing and puk­ing.

Ev­ery­thing is done all-out, and there’s a charm in that even when it doesn’t quite work.

“Va­ca­tion” is an un­abashed ex­er­cise in ex­cess. It moves quickly, it’ll keep a smile on your face (be­yond the con­tents of Chris Hemsworth’s un­der­wear) and it will draw out hearty laughs along the way. Da­ley and Gold­stein have got­ten the manic, screw­ball tone down to a near-sci­ence.

But in pack­ing ev­ery other mo­ment with some­thing wild and an­chor­ing it with a point­less arc about Deb­bie and Rusty’s mar­riage, “Va­ca­tion” has di­verged from the sim­ple sane­ness and so­phis­ti­cated, of-its-time satire of the first. They’re in dif­fer­ent leagues.

Don’t be fooled by a brief ap­pear­ance by Chevy Chase and Bev­erly D’An­gelo, ei­ther. This “Va­ca­tion” is not the real thing. And yet, sac­cha­rine can be sweet and sat­is­fy­ing in its own way.

“Va­ca­tion,” a Warner Bros. re­lease, is rated R by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion, for “crude and sex­ual con­tent and lan­guage through­out, and brief graphic nudity.” Run­ning time: 99 min­utes. Two and a half stars out of four.

AP PHOTO

This photo pro­vided by Warner Bros. Pic­tures shows, Skyler Gisondo, from left, as James Gris­wold, Steele Steb­bins as Kevin Gris­wold, Christina Ap­ple­gate as Deb­bie Gris­wold, and Ed Helms as Rusty Gris­wold, in a scene from New Line Cinema’s com­edy “Va­ca­tion,” a Warner Bros. Pic­tures’ re­lease.

AP PHOTO

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