The much-loved Vacation series has been given a 21st century kick up the butt. 18 years after the notorious Griswold family made their last big screen outing in the largely forgotten Vegas Vacation, this Ed Helms-led fifth instalment, Vacation, takes the series back to its roots. Also starring Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth, as well as series ever-presents Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo – the original Griswold husband-wife duo – cameoing, directorial debutants John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein take on this fresh-faced, yet highly sentimental reboot.
Rusty Griswold (Helms) feels like his family has gotten stuck in a rut. His kids – James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) are constantly at each others throats – while his marriage to wife Debbie (Applegate) appears to be growing increasingly stale.
To mix things up, the low-budget airline pilot decides to take his dysfunctional family on a cross-country road trip to Walley World – a place he experienced one of his happiest childhood memories. Oh so unsurprisingly, things don’t go smoothly, as the foursome get wrapped up in high-speed chases, awkward sexual encounters and a cow-killing stop off at Rusty’s sister, Audrey (Mann), and beef-cake husband, Stone’s (Hemsworth), impressively superior abode, along the way.
“The new vacation will stand on its own!” declared an enthusiastic Ed Helms as Rusty – an ironic (and very deliberate) hat-tip to the 1983 original which this latest reincarnation of the franchise is inspired. Here lies a significant statement: Vacation pays respect – much like Colin Trevorrow’s Jurrasic World – to its origins, yet tries – to a degree of success – to stand firmly on its own two feet.
There’s something particularly likeable about new lead Helms, who had the ominous task of taking over from on-screen father Chevy Chase as head Griswold. A surprisingly infectious boyish charm captures the screen – making his presence the highlight of the film – yet Daley and Goldstein’s creation, despite the odd quirky gag here and there, goes cheap, crass and dirty – and not in a good way.
It’s meant as stupid fun, but this particularly raunchy spectacle – including a cross-state orgy and a hell of a lot of Chris Hemsworth’s abs – is a patch work of foul-mouthed clangers and the occasional smile-inducing punchline. Youngest Griswold, Kevin, is the chief offender – the AIDS, rape and paedophile lines land firmly on their ugly head, while his sweary antics wear extremely thin within the film’s opening moments. A musically-induced canoeing skit and a Hemsworth-Helms bull-wrangling scene offer some effective comedic relief, but these enjoyable moments are easily forgotten amongst the inescapably palm-facing toilet humour.
Helms leads well, while Gisondo’s James added a nice touch of youthful naivety to proceedings, but the new Vacation – despite the occasional cheap laugh – leads down a lazy, sewage-laiden path it didn’t need to go down.