Over the course of four features, Chevy Chase’s mutant nuclear family have become such a pop-culture brand, they’re the only movie clan alongside the Flintstones to feature in Microsoft Word’s spellcheck. With Ed Helm and Christina Applegate headlining, a next-generation reboot seems to make sense, but this comes perilously close to rehash.
As is road-trip tradition, Chase’s original pilgrimage was allegorical that voyage to Walley World was essentially a man driving head-first into a midlife crisis. Helm’s inept Rusty suggests the torch has been passed to the right buffoon, but in Vacation, it’s Applegate in meltdown mode, sparked by an unwise stop-off at her old college. If there’s a reason to catch Vacation it’s the sweet-and-sour Applegate, but even so. Road movies are episodic by design, so Vacation was always going to be sketchy. What’s surprising is the indecisive tone, swerving between farce, gross-out, Apatow gender-com and Farrelly splatstick.
Every memorable film comedy has a stand-out gag. Vacation has its moments but it never delivers that killer, word-of-mouth set-piece. The closest the movie comes to a signature gag is the Griswolds’ terrifically horrific Albanian holiday car, the Tartan Prancer — designed with such handy extras as angry Korean sat-nav and a bewildering keyfob with a swastika button.
It soon becomes apparent the Prancer is an emblem of the Griswolds’ deteriorating state — battered, pranged and, eventually, self-exploding. And yet the malfunctioning motor also characterises the movie itself — midway through, the exhaust backfires and the gags run out of gas.
One unexpected pleasure: Chris Hemsworth as the Griswolds’ brother-in-law, so ridiculously alpha he’s endowed with an oil-rig in his trousers.