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When "Family Vacation" is an Oxymoron

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2015 28 Jul
When "Family <i>Vacation</i>" is an Oxymoron

DVD Release Date: November 3, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: July 29, 2015
Rating: R (for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity)
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 99 min.
Directors: John Francis Daly & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Catherine Missal, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Ron Livingston

How far is too far when it comes to movie comedies? Outside of kids' movies and family-oriented films, today's comedies mostly come in two varieties: coarse and coarser.

If Trainwreck and Ted 2 didn't have enough outrageous humor for you, fret not: the Summer 2015 raunchy comedy parade continues with Vacation, an update on the 1983 National Lampoon film that introduced us to Clark Griswold and his family as they journeyed to the Walley World amusement park.

Clark (Chevy Chase) and wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) show up late in this new Vacation, which focuses on a now-grown Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms, The Hangover films), who has inherited Clark's haplessness. Rusty can't see that his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate, Anchorman 2) and sons James and Kevin (Sklyer Gisondo and Steele Stebbins), aren't interested in returning to the cabin that Rusty has been dragging them to for years. Once he figures out that the family is dreading, rather than looking forward to, their upcoming vacation, Rusty decides a different direction—back to Walley World—is needed to reinvigorate the family's getaway.

Vacation not only revisits and repeats the destination of the 1983 film, but it revisits and repeats certain jokes. For instance, the famous scene of Clark keeping an eye on an attractive blonde in a fancy car gets a surprising twist here—an example of the shock-humor that's become more prevalent, even dominant, since the original film was released.

SEE ALSO: A Star is Born in the Middle of a Trainwreck

Whether or not you find that moment amusing is a good predictor of how you'll react to the rest of Vacation, which traffics in the type of limit-pushing gags that have been done so many times in other films that they've become passé. Check our "Cautions" below for a detailed list.

Less predictable, but more interesting, is the development of the Griswold children. Barely afterthoughts in the original Vacation series (Clark and Ellen's kids were played by different actors across the four films), the two sons in this entry have a defined dynamic: sewer-mothed younger brother Kevin taunts and bullies the older, poetry-loving James, who accepts the abusive treatment for much of the film.

Like Clark in the 1983 Vacation, James pursues a relationship with an attractive passerby (Catherine Missal) he sees during the family's drive, but his brother's crude teasing and his father's oblivious "wingman" interference hinder James's budding romance. Still, the scenes between James and his prospective girlfriend have an innocent spirit that the rest of the film decidedly lacks.

The "straight man" role in Vacation goes to Applegate as the sensible spouse who turns out to have had a wild side during her college days. The discovery of her past reputation coincides with a predictable scene of excess at a sorority party that is nonetheless amusing in showing that a grown woman's tolerance for college-age antics isn't what it once was.

SEE ALSO: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Goes to the Head of the 2015 Film Class

So, yes, there's vomiting in Vacation, as well as a scene of the Griswolds taking a back road to bathe in some "hot springs" that turn out to be raw sewage. Nothing in the film is very surprising, and the gags aren't high-minded, obviously. Worse, the portrayal of a dad who can't do anything right and a wife who has to be the voice of reason smacks of the lamest sitcom-style marriages.

On a more positive note, some of the performances are more surprising than the material, including a role for Chris Hemsworth (Thor) as a wealthy traditionalist married to Rusty's sister Audrey (the always enjoyable Leslie Mann (The Other Woman), who's sadly underused here). Helms's obliviousness makes him a good choice as Rusty, with a mix of sweetness and stupidity that suits the actor, playing a somewhat similar role to that he played in NBC's The Office. And a few jokes are simply silly, such as The Prancer, Rusty's vacation vehicle based on Albanian engineering. There's also a sweetness at the core of Rusty and Debbie's marriage—a willingness to work through problems and keep their love alive—that would be more admirable if it were more developed, rather than used as an excuse for, among other things, jokes about having sex in public places.

If there's a silver lining to this comedy, it's very thin. Vacation is little more than a series of gags—scatological and other—that test the audience's taste for gross, sometimes violent, humor.

So what live-action, adult-oriented comedies are out there for those interested in less provocative fare? Allow me to recommend Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Though its theatrical run is nearing an end, the film—which is largely a drama with several comedic passages—is my favorite of the year so far. Reviewing Vacation and Trainwreck, both of which made me cringe when they weren't coaxing laughs from me, has drawn me even more strongly to the relatively innocent laughs of the PG-13 Earl (which, as I stressed in my review, is only "clean" by comparison). That's a summer comedy worth seeking out, even if you have to take your own road trip to find a theater still playing it—something I can't say about the R-rated summer comedies I've seen, including Vacation.

SEE ALSO: Title Says it All in Dumb and Dumber To

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; the f-word; several uses of foul language; teasing references to boys having a vagina; "penis" written on a guitar; discussion of a swastika  
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking at a party; a woman consumes an excessive amount of beer before attempting to run an obstacle course; a husband and wife drink liquor and wine
  • Sex/Nudity: Photo montages at the beginning and end of the film include a man's exposed backside, another man's exposed sex organ and animals having sex; a pilot puts his hands on a woman's breast during turbulence; discussion of "gender fluidity" and "rim jobs"; discussion of a "glory hole"; discussion of sex acts; kissing, including same-sex kissing at a party; jokes about sex offenders and pedophiles; a husband and wife shake up their sex life; painting of a penis and scrotum; a man stands in his underwear, and an outline of his penis can be seen; a husband and wife are caught trying to have sex on a state monument; a married couple is said to sleep around
  • Violence/Crime: Several shots of characters vomiting; dad fake-stabs his son; a boy puts a plastic bag over brother's head; a woman driving on the highway hits another vehicle head-on; a man drives a tractor into an animal; a man goes over a waterfall

Publication date: July 28, 2015