Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Vacation: Film soils Hot Springs

- JENNIFER CHRISTMAN

The National Lampoon’s Vacation series has traveled to many places. California. Europe. Las Vegas. And now, Vacation — the latest incarnatio­n of the road-trip-gone-wildly-wrong film franchise — makes a stop in our very own Hot Springs.

Too bad the movie’s depiction of Spa City, well, stinks. Literally. In the movie, Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, who is taking his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and two sons on a cross-country road trip to California’s Walley World theme park — just like the trip his father Clark (Chevy Chase) attempted when Rusty was a boy. Crudeness, craziness — and cackling (admittedly this writer cracked up from beginning to end) — ensue.

On the way, the family visits Hot Springs. They never make it to destinatio­ns like the Mid-America Science Museum, Oaklawn Park, the Belle of Hot Springs or Magic Springs (think of all the time and trouble the Griswolds would have saved opting for amusement rides like the Arkansas Twister roller coaster and Razorback Roundup bumper cars).

They get stuck in a traffic jam waiting to enter Hot Springs, as if it’s one communal bathing attraction (it’s not).

They ask a passerby if there’s a way to bypass the line. He redirects them to a more secluded bathing area nearby, this while he has a rat crawling on him as if that’s a normal Arkansas thing (it’s not).

They go soaking in a sulfur-smelling swamp that they believe to be Hot Springs’ healing waters (it’s not). Pan to the “DANGER RAW SEWAGE” sign before the filthy family freaks and then realizes they have no clean clothes — or any clothes for that matter — to change into, as all their belongings have been stolen by that dirty rat, the one with, well, the dirty rat.

It’s fairly foul publicity for Spa City, a place that — in the enticing words of the National Park Service website — prides itself on its water: “That’s what first attracted people, and they have been coming here ever since to use these soothing thermal waters to heal and relax. Rich and poor alike came for the baths, and a thriving city built up around the hot springs. Together nicknamed ‘The American Spa,’ Hot Springs National Park today surrounds the north end of the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Come discover it for yourself.”

Will anyone want a Hot Springs vacation after it was portrayed as a hot mess in Vacation?

Arkansas Tourism Director

Joe David Rice has not seen the movie, but says about the filmmakers, “Clearly, they have never visited the city.”

And they didn’t, confirms Arkansas Film Commission­er Christophe­r Crane, who hasn’t seen the film and says he probably won’t.

“None of it was filmed in Arkansas,” Crane says, pointing out the Warner Bros. movie was filmed in states like Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and California. “We can’t be the content police for everything that comes out, and they did not come through the office.”

I solicited Facebook feedback from Arkansas friends who saw Vacation. “Not thrilled with the scene,” said one. “Typical Arkansas stereotype. At least they mentioned us, though,” said another. “It was awkward and gross, and I think I’d rather have been left out of the movie than to see all that. LOL!” said yet another.

Steve Arrison, CEO of Hot Springs’ Convention & Visitors Bureau, has not seen the movie. Nor have a lot of people, according Vacation’s low opening weekend ticket sales.

“I don’t think we’ll be adversely affected by a movie that’s been a bust at the box office,” Arrison says.

He points to his city’s selling points: “The National Park Service does an outstandin­g job. Our water is the cleanest in the world,” adding the jug fountains that dispense water are popular attraction­s for visitors. “We’re having an outstandin­g summer season.”

Rice says, “I’m not going to let this worry me.” He adds, if misreprese­ntation in a movie can influence folks’ opinion of Arkansas, “They’re not the kind of people we want visiting the state anyway.”

So hop in the woody wagon, hit the “Holiday Road,” and head to Hot Springs. Don’t make me turn this car around, email:

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 ??  ?? Christina Applegate (as Debbie Griswold) and Ed Helms (as Rusty Griswold) realize they’re not really bathing in Hot Springs’ famed waters during a scene in Vacation.
Christina Applegate (as Debbie Griswold) and Ed Helms (as Rusty Griswold) realize they’re not really bathing in Hot Springs’ famed waters during a scene in Vacation.

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