Directors: Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Date: August 21st
Seeing a sequel, prequel or remake to a beloved property always brings a general sense of unease, ire and why-this-why-now. Vacation, a follow-on/reboot of the John Hughes classic, is no different. Hughes’ original, under the direction of peak-Harold Ramis and starring peak-Chevy Chase, was wonderfully subversive, a raunchy family comedy under the same banner that launched Animal House years previous. Getting uppity about tainting a classic seems reasonable, until that is, you realise that a franchise has long been stained, churning out a Randy Quaid spin-off and a short in 2010 that was essentially an advertisement for a proto-AirBnB.
Ed Helms plays Rusty, son of Clark, and now an economy airline pilot with a wife and kids of his own. With his family growing tired of yearly trips to a cabin in Cheboygan, Michigan, he decides to take them on a cross country pilgrimage to the mecca of his childhood memories, Wallyworld. Sound familiar? Rusty promises in a meta mea culpa that things will be different this time — the last vacation was 30 years ago and there’s two boys instead of a girl and a boy for example.
Directors and co-writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley — soon to shepherd the 19th iteration of Spiderman in a decade to the big screen — while treading over known ground, don’t go out of their way to re-tell too jokes and pay sycophantic homage. And Vacation is all the better for it. All the big trailer moments from are there — Griswalds bathing in a dumping ground and Chris Hemsworth wielding Thor’s hammer in his boxers — but, like the original, most of the truly great moments come from the four leads boxed inside the Tartan Prancer, the Albanian Honda complete with two petrol tanks, dual rear-view mirrors and a swastika button on its key fob.
Helms has just about the right levels of enthusiasm and gormless idiot to take his father’s mantle. The original series was a pure Chase vehicle with his co-stars there for purely reactionary needs. To Goldstein and Daley’s credit that they’ve given Rusty’s kin something to work with. As wife Debbie, Christina Applegate gets to let loose in a way she’s never been afforded in the likes of Anchorman. She’s straight laced but with a wild sorority girl past that results in her trying to relive past triumphs in the Chug Run, a demented game reminiscent of Takeshi’s Castle if you had to chug a pitcher of beer beforehand. Their sons, played by Styler Gisondo (the older, whimsy journal carrying one) and Steele Stebbins (the younger, foul mouthed spawn of satan one), get in good laughs too, particularly Gisondo’s ‘life talks’ with Helms.
The rolodex of cameos is a little hit-and-miss: Keegan-Michael Peel is great as an over-bearing but loving father, and a quartet of local police played by a group of actors that’s worth keeping a surprise is the best scene in it; a Charlie Day role is brief and doesn’t hit, and Chase and Beverly D’Angelo’s appearance struggle to garner even a chuckle in an attempt to knit things together that’s entirely superfluous. The secret weapon is Hemsworth as Rusty’s red-blooded Republican brother-in-law though, a man who once cried with Charlton Heston at the state of America. He’s shown a funny side in the past with the right Joss Whedon dialogue, but finally gets to full unleash his comedic talent, both timing and physical.
Despite its cross to bear and fears you might have of a horrid update soundtracked to a Skrillex remix of Lindsey Buckingham’s ‘Holiday Road’, Goldstein and Daley have enough respect for what their working with but are more than happy doing their own thing. And because of it, Vacation is a fun and pleasant surprise. How long until Christmas now?