I was thinking…
…how powerful a thing nostalgia can be. As children of the 1970’s and 80’s, my fellow-Generation X-er’s and I are particularly protective of our childhoods. And now we are of the age when we have children of our own and wish to share with them the gems and jewels of those magical years of our youths.
One such gem was the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation, starring Chevy Chase. I, personally, have extremely fond memories of Christie Brinkley skinny dipping in the hotel pool. And, uh, I think there was some story or journey in there somewhere, too.
Oh yeah, and I remember Christie Brinkley also drove around in a Ferrari. And her hair was like spun gold…
…Sorry, I lost my train of thought. Where was I?
Ah, yes. Preceded by the bout of 80’s-born films like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vacation is either the latest attempt to satiate that nostalgic urge growing inside of us or it’s another example of how Hollywood, by and large, is running out of ideas.
I don’t really care which, because it was actually really hilarious.
Part of that hilarity becomes evident early on during a quasi-fourth-wall-breaking scene, when the main characters self-reflexively mention the first Vacation film from 1983 and speak of it much as one would a movie and not as an event in one’s personal history.
Rusty (Ed Helms—Hangover) wants his wife, children and the audience to know that the series of comical events soon to unfold will “stand on [their] own,” and in no way will they simply be rehashing the Griswold’s first trip from Chicago to L.A.
Although the final destination–the theme park known as Wally World–is the same, the reason for the journey is different. Rusty wants to provide a new set of memories for his family and especially for his unfulfilled wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate—Anchorman), who is bored with the repeated annual journey to the cabin in Cheboygan, Michigan (not to be confused with Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Sorry, fans of Kohler toilets. Your day of recognition will come.)
Insisting the new roller coaster at the theme park will be worth the journey and refusing to use his status as an airline pilot to simply fly them out west, Rusty rents a ridiculously problematic and perplexing Albanian car. The time spent during the road trip will, he hopes, furnish the slew of memories he wishes for his family.
He is not disappointed.
The desire to bring his family closer together is not one with which many of us are unfamiliar. It reminds me a great deal of the three week ordeal–or I suppose I should say “journey”–out west my own family embarked upon many years ago at the behest of my parents. Even how Rusty wishes to go about his vacation is painfully familiar.
I can laugh about it now, though.
Seriously, the humor in the film, although expectedly sophomoric at times, originates from the realm of reality. Brothers fighting in the backseat–even one trying to asphyxiate the other with a plastic bag–is not without a germ of truth. The wife with a somewhat shocking collegiate career is also not a stretch. About the only thing that does come across as absurd movie fare is the cryptic Albanian Tartan Prancer car. And that car is one of the best characters in the whole story.
I only wish I knew what the swastika on the key fob did.
As for the cast, Ed Helms plays the hapless son of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold with believable ineptitude. Admittedly, a full-grown Anthony Michael Hall reprising his role as Rusty would have felt unnecessary at best and completely ill-fitting at worst.
Christina Applegate has long since outgrown her days as the brainless bimbo Kelly Bundy from Married…with Children and now seems an appropriate and safe help meet for Rusty. While their boys, played by Skyler Gisondo (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Steele Stebbins (Haunted House 2), are a delightful pairing of the awkward, emotionally in-touch teenager and his foul-mouthed, violent little brother.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers) also makes an appearance as Rusty’s Texas weatherman brother-in-law, and does a side-splitting job at it. And, as if to grace the film with an official seal of approval, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo delightfully lend their talents as well.
From the opening credits–a chortle-inducing collection of images from Awkward Family Photos–to the final scene, Vacation neither repeats nor replaces its progenitor, while sprinkling in the signature “Holiday Road” song from the original, presented in three different renditions.
Vacation provides just what its namesake implies: a blend of the new with the familiar–but a familiar as seen and understood in new ways. ‘Getting there’ may not be a whole lot of fun for the Griswold’s, but it certainly is for the rest of us.
Ammo Dump rating: 8 out of 10 plastic bags
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.or the “iHeartRadio” app on your smart phone. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter:
Run time: 99 minutes