To scrutinize what went irredeemably wrong with the latest Vacation reboot is to pinpoint exactly where comedy went awry in the mid-90’s. The Farrelly Brothers came to providence and their movies slathered both gross-out, scatological humor with pathos in equal measure (and to wondrous effect in There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin and Dumb and Dumber). However, every success is the surrogate father of bastardized imitations.
2015’s Vacation is a mean-spirited, consistently unfunny copycat of that era where comedy reached farther down for the gag reflex than the rib tickle. How else to explain the rampant pedophilia jokes (Norman Reedus materializes in a cameo as a scruffy sexual predator who lures children into his truck with a teddy bear) and gay panic scenarios about James (Skyler Gisondo), Rusty’s (a mugging Ed Helms) introspective son.
To their credit, Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley don’t waste any time before delving right into comically bankrupt material with an opening montage of random vacation photos over a Holiday Road redux. Rusty’s pubescent son Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a putrid caricature whose sole purpose is the shock value of a youngster spouting expletives and being an Omen doppelganger to his older, emasculated sibling. You’ll want to whisk him off the screen and you’ll quickly denounce Rusty and Debbie (Christina Applegate) as abhorrent parents for raising and placating such a prick.
Each joke is accompanied by a painfully obvious execution. For example, Rusty brags about the sensor system in his Prancer but it quickly malfunctions when he wedges his arm in the door. Rinse and repeat the Murphy’s Law ad nauseum. We could realistically empathize with the Griswolds when they accidentally took a detour in the 1983 classic or when they skulked for miles in search of the seasonal tree in Christmas Vacation. Nothing is remotely corporeal or grounded when they frolic in raw sewage or nearly descend down a waterfall.
A stab at meta references (ala the infinitely superior 21 and 22 Jump Street) to James not “hearing about the original vacation” backfire because the phraseology doesn’t flow in the context. As Stone Crandell, the Adonis husband of Audrey (Leslie Mann), a stranded Chris Hemsworth is equipped with a gargantuan phallic prop and faucet analogies which are pretty haggard traits for jocular possibilities.
For mercy’s sake, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles in a rather dejected capacity. Chase augments his Pierce wackiness from Community which is a complete disgrace to the nurturing Clark Griswold we all knew. Glimpsing Chevy fumble with a guitar is as unappealing a sight of forsaken instincts as Jerry Lewis in Hardly Working.
Perhaps, an Audrey-centric sequel might’ve been more fecund terrain since female-driven comedies like Spy and Trainwreck have done blockbuster business and garnered critical acclaim. Alas, we’re being suffocated by this unholy spawn. The ratio hasn’t swung in a continuation of the franchise’s favor. Time to repossess the Truckster and condemn Walley World as a contaminated wasteland.
Rating: .5 out of 5