The world never needed a Vacation reboot/remake, but it got it, and the results are about as half-baked as you’d expect. The first film has become a classic, and Christmas Vacation is something of a holiday staple, but the other sequels and spin-offs have shown that the first film worked because of a lead at the height of his powers and a relatable premise. In 2015, how many families get a week off to go on an extended vacation? Do middle class families really feel ripped off if they don’t get to go to Paris like all their friends?
Ed Helms stars as Rusty Griswold, and he works as an airplane pilot for a lesser brand airline. After a dinner with some friends, it becomes apparent that his wife Debbie (Christine Applegate), artistic son James (Skyler Gisondo) and his bullying younger brother Kevin (Steele Stebbins) don’t want to go to the same cabin they’ve been going to for years on their vacation. Rusty then decides they should drive to Wallyworld, like his father did lo those many years ago. It turns out that his marriage is on much thinner ice than he expected and his kids don’t get along, so this week-long sojourn brings out all the problems in the family that had been bubbling under the surface.
As they head west, they return to Rusty and Debbie’s college, where it’s revealed that Debbie is a legend with her sorority as she was known as “Debbie Do Anything,” while James has a crush on a girl he keeps seeing on the road, though he’s cockblocked by his father (unintentionally) and his brother (intentionally). Their rental car is an off-brand Albanian hybrid that has features no one understands, and after a mishap with a CB it seems they’re being pursued by a trucker with a teddy bear stuck to the front of his grill. Also on the trip they visit Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann), who’s married Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth), a weatherman who is perfect in almost every single way, other than his way right leaning beliefs.
The film is (as should be evident) episodic like the original, which leads to pit stops where the characters go white water rafting with guide Chad (Charlie Day), who is impossibly chipper only to have his world upended right before he goes out with the Griswolds. There’s also a chance to revisit Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, who reprise their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold, and much of the family and marital problems are resolved along the way.
The big problem with writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein’s film is a sense of comic rhythms. The film is mostly built on the ticking time bomb of Rusty facing all sorts of obstacles and trying to remain cool until he finally loses it, and so much of the film is about seeing the main character being tortured. His good nature makes this palatable, but his social discomfort when surrounded by better parents and more attractive men leads to a lot of the same sort of jokes, so you can anticipate how they’re going to land. Every joke seems coming down main street, which may be why the best jokes are the bleakest, like the Charlie Day section, or when the film is handed over to cameos. But in revisiting this material, it points out that the middle class nuclear family of the 1980’s (and in its way, as was the case with the original material, the 1950’s and 60’s) isn’t the dominant paradigm in America. Perhaps this film, which is in its way a throwback, is meant as comfort food.
Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, while the set comes with a DVD and digital copy. The transfer is to be expected, it’s a recent release of a film shot digitally, so it’s immaculate, with the only limitations being that this isn’t really the sort of film that is made in a showy way. Extras are modest. There’s “Return to Walley World” (10 min.), which is about how the writer/directors rebooted/sequelized the original, and how the cast was excited about finding a new angle to approaching the franchise, while “The Griswold Odyssey” (18 min.) walks through all the supposed different locations in the film, most of which were shot in Georgia. There’s a brief gag reel (2 min.) and a collection of deleted scenes (12 min.), one of which has the Griswolds going to a Burning Man-esque festival where their car is torched by cast members from Freaks and Geeks (director John Daley was the star of that show, so it was meant to be a reunion moment for the geeks), it also offers a different ending that offers more of a comeuppance for Stone Crandall. Also included is “Georgia” (2 min.) which has Helms and Applegate shilling for the state as a great place to both film and live.