As a kid in the ’80s, it should come as no surprise that National Lampoon’s Vacation series was a staple in my childhood viewing. While some may balk at the idea of kid watching movies full of dirty jokes, and amazingly lighthearted nudity, it was my own version of “Father Knows Best.” When you get right down to it, who wouldn’t love to have a dad as lovably clueless as Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase)? Lucky for me, my mom always called my dad our own Clark, so maybe that was another reason I loved the films so much. Not to mention I share the same birthdate with Clark: August 8 — as revealed in European Vacation.
Along with the original, the sequels played on heavy rotation through the old VCR — I still defend European as the most underrated of the four. So it was sad that by the time the fourth installment finally took the Griswolds to Vegas, the well had officially run dry. While still full of the original elements that kept the family so endearing remained, the comedy was wasted on a PG-rating, something no Vacation — on film or in real life — could realistically be rated. Now, 32 years later, we find a new generation of Griswolds hitting the road, with dreams of “Walley World” gleaming in their eyes.
Rusty (Ed Helms) is all grown up with a family of his own with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two teenage sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Working as a pilot for an economy airline, Rusty soon sees the glue holding his family together start to wear thin. Afraid of marital strife, and a bullying case of sibling rivalry, Rusty decides they’re heading for Walley World. The family can’t wrap their head around why Rusty would ever want to revisit one of the worst trips of his life, but Rusty is adamant. They all hit the road, in search of some family bonding, with the expected bumps along the way.
For anyone wondering whether writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (the first and only funny of the two Horrible Bosses) manage to deliver new laughs with a heavy side of nostalgia, look no further than the opening credit sequence set to Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road.” Or another bit where Rusty is revisiting family photos from the previous Vacations with each one consisting of every different Rusty and his sister Audrey — who have never been played by the same actors. Even the theme from Chariots of Fire is reworked to hilarious effect. And things wouldn’t be complete without pit stops to see Audrey (Leslie Mann), along with a final detour to visit the OG Griswolds Clark and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and true fans will know what I mean when I say the Family Truckster.
Does it really matter whether the troupe make it to Walley World? Not really, and anyone who’s seen any previews know they do. It’s the getting there that’s the fun part. Don’t worry, the family element remains intact, but they still manage to keep it chock full of the prerequisite shenanigans and laugh-out-loud moments we demand from a Vacation. Let’s just say nothing is sacred. From animal cannibalism to pedophilia, no stone is left unturned in Daley and Goldstein’s race to offend and make us laugh as hard as possible. Oh sure, most of them are of the guilty variety, but it wouldn’t be a Vacation movie without them. Some sequences may have a slight sitcom-feel to them, but when the family hits the road, wackiness ensues and it’s fantastic to see the Griswolds back on the big screen. This Vacation is definitely one worth taking.