Instead of finding a way to channel the original film's clever cluelessness, this new take on the material is all gross-out gags from two decades ago.
The new Vacation film doesn't play by the rules. Sadly, it should. It violates the first mandate of a comedy: it's not very funny. It's gross-out gag filled script is hit or (mostly) miss at best. It then bends the requirements of a reboot/revamp/remake of the 1983 film of the same name. Instead, this is basically a sequel, several years in the making, that wants to channel the hilarious original while coming up with a bad taste version all its own. It fails so miserably that the truth in advertising watchdogs should demand a cease and desist for the use of the Vacation name.
Oh sure, the Griswolds are once again involved, except this time it's son Rusty (Ed Helms, decent, but no replacement for Anthony Michael Hall) who wants to go back to the days of the traditional family cross country crapfest. His wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate, completely wasted) thinks it a bad idea, and once you meet their mismatched brats -- older dreamer James (Skyler Gisondo) and baby bully Kevin (Steele Stebbins) -- you'll instantly understand why. We have to spend 90 minutes with this humorless brood.
Indeed, just like his daddy, Rusty ends up in a worthless auto, his Wally World destination sidetracked by visits to his sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her Fox News fearing weatherman hubby, Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth, proving Thor can do comedy as well). We also have to contend with "the perfect family" (Keegan Michael-Key and Regina Hall), a suicidal river raft guide (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day, one of the few sources of energy in this limp excuse for entertainment), and, of course, a last minute cameo from Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo).
The rest of the movie's majorly mediocre script (from first time directors and Horrible Bosses scribes John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein) is nothing more than a series of scatological missteps. When Debbie has a chance to revisit her college days via a stop off at her sorority, the end result is a fountain of projectile vomit. When the Griswolds stop off at a "natural spring" to get in touch with nature, they end up bathing in a feces-filled pool of raw sewage. From Hemsworth's ever-present penis (make that, the exaggerated outline of same) to a sequence involving one of the kid's getting covered in cow guts, Vacation vents instead of inviting us in. It's more like an assault than a R-rated amusement.
Mimicking the Farrelly Brothers is fine, especially if it's 1998 and you've just seen There's Something About Mary zoom up the box office charts. But this is 17 years later, and the last time that duo tried for their recognizable raunch, they delivered the stillborn Dumb and Dumber To. Daily and Goldstein still think Kingpin and Me, Myself, and Irene are just around the corner. Instead, they're stuck presenting gags that haven't been funny since Bill Clinton was in office, if ever. Instead of modernizing their motives, taking the old fashioned Griswolds and making them come face to face with leisure circa 2015, we are lost in a loop of nasty nonsense which results in shoulder shrugs, not chuckles.
Again, the cast can't really be blamed. Helms wants to remind the audience of his character's father's clueless klutziness. Instead, he often comes across as a moron out of his stupidity league. Applegate struggles against the shrew she's been given and Mann and Hemsworth are marquee names only. Only Day and young Stebbins "get" this movie, making sure every line reading and each reaction add to our appreciation. Of course, they are often left hanging by a screenplay that wouldn't understand the nuances attached to the original by it's now legendary author, '80s icon John Hughes.
Clearly, Daily and Goldstein are no Harold Ramises either. His early career with Second City helped refine his idea of what was funny and what wasn't. Look at his resume in comparison with these two bozos and you'll quickly see where the problems lie. A stint on Freaks and Geeks (Daily) and time on several failed sitcoms (Goldstein) does not a comedy auteur make. Instead, this pair think they will sync up with their ADD addled audience enough to get a few snickers out of them. All they elicit are groans.
Chalk it up to yet another Hollywood hack job where missed opportunities and alternative approaches practically slap the viewer in the face. Why not a full blown family reunion, complete with bringing Hall and Dana Barron back as the kids. Introduce compelling and witty spouses, kid without the mandatory four-letter word approach to irony, and a situation (the closing of Wally World) that can make the obvious sense of nostalgia worth? Jurassic World got it right. Remember what the people liked about the original and give them more of that. Much more. That idea made it the third highest grossing film of all time. Vacation will be lucky if it makes a millionth of its gross.
Feel sorry for the fools who end up plunking down their money for this disaster. The Summer of 2015 has been graced with amazing epics (Mad Max: Fury Road) and high concept duds (Pixels). Vacation can't find a place between the two. That's because, when you're a cinematic bottom feeder, the ground floor is what you deserve. Vacation may not be the worst movie of the year, but it sure feels like it. That's what happens when you turn great expectations into poop joke pandering.