Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: Vacation

by Adam Riske
Don’t go on Vacation.

Vacation is one of the most bizarrely mean-spirited studio comedies I can recall seeing. Whatever laughs it lands (it does get a few) are overshadowed how much this movie hates its characters. I’ve seen many comedies in my lifetime worse than Vacation, but few that were so hell-bent on humiliating them at each and every turn. It might just be me but I think this reboot of the Vacation franchise would have been much better served if it liked its characters, like the previous entries in this franchise. A lot of comedy can be wrung from that. But that is not what writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (Horrible Bosses, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) have in mind with this movie. Instead, they want you to wade in the depths of their shitty worldview. Good thing they’re writing the next Spider-Man movie! Because fuck my life.
Vacation tells the familiar story of a dad (this time a grown-up Rusty Griswold played by Ed Helms) who takes his wife (Christina Applegate) and two sons (played by Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins….two awful real people names) on a cross-country road trip to Walley World in order to bring them closer together. Supposed hilarity ensues. I say supposed hilarity because this is a movie with comedic sequences where the punchlines include HAHA! She’s projectile vomiting! HAHA! They’re covered in shit! HAHA! That little boy just beat up a girl! HAHA! He’s a rapist and pedophile HAHA! That pretty girl died in a car accident and HAHA! That guy fell off a rapid and died! Oh wait! He didn’t die! Oh never mind, he’s going to get eaten by a bear! So he will die! Yes! HAHA! It’s such a depressing experience to watch.

I felt bad for most of the actors in Vacation. But not Ed Helms. If you’re a sports fan, you might be familiar with the phrase “playing down to your competition.” It means you are a good team but when you play a bad team, you play just bad enough to keep them in the game. That is Ed Helms. He plays down to his material and that is exactly how he is in Vacation. The screenwriting and direction are the biggest problems of this movie, but Ed Helms still does nothing to elevate this material. He wades in the sewage. Literally. So does Steele Stebbins as the youngest Griswold, who has the impossibly written character of a boy who enjoys picking on his sweet older brother. This would be fine if the kid didn’t want to murder his older brother, which hilariously he wants to do in this fucking Vacation piece of shit.
Christina Applegate (an actress I usually don’t love because she always is stuck playing a buzz kill) maintains her dignity and I liked her in Vacation because she’s one of maybe two characters who are reasonable people. Chevy Chase (who looks tired and confused), Beverly D’Angelo, Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth all have small roles, of which Hemsworth is by far the funniest. However, he’s only in the movie for maybe 10 minutes. He has a good running joke where he uses faucets as an analogy for everything and it’s one of the few instances of genuine wit in the movie. But then Ed Helms steps on the joke because that’s what Ed Helms does. I don’t like Ed Helms. There’s also a cameo by Norman Reedus and I question his sanity for taking that part. It’s in insanely poor taste. It involves sex with kids – a topic this movie is obsessed with (e.g. rim jobs, adults falling face first into toddler’s laps, luring children with stuffed animals etc.). I hate this movie.

Another shitty thing about Vacation is that it exists entirely in movie world. I’m so tired of that. This is a vacation movie made by two assholes that have seemingly never been on a vacation before because there is nary an identifiable situation in the movie. It’s ok to humiliate your characters if we like and can empathize with them, but we’re never given any time to like these individuals so it’s just a show of figuratively watching carnival barkers bite the heads off of chickens while the audience recoils in disgust. The structure is episodic, so it bounces from one bad sequence to another every 10 minutes. The worst is a horrible, endless Four Corners Monument scene which is not funny, embarrassing and goes on way too long. It’s like desperate improv comedy you can’t escape.
There’s no sense belaboring this review any longer. The new Vacation is just dreadful. It’s a movie you can passively watch for a little while, laughing here and there, until the stone-cold realization hits you that the movie hates its characters and hates you even more as a viewer. I’m not usually the conscience police when it comes to movies, but this one really crosses the line of being edgy and audacious into just being in poor taste. There’s no morality to be had here. It has very little of the heart and wit of the original series and is just point blank an uncomfortable experience. Even if you like the other ones, I don’t think you’ll like this one. It’s a family comedy that’s been hijacked by 21st century smarm and nihilism. Writing this review just reminds me of how much this movie really pisses me off.

9 comments:

  1. CLARIFICATION: It was the carnival barker's job to lure people into the tent. It was the GEEK's job to bite the heads off live chickens. Great review, Adam.

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    1. Oh boy. I can't believe I mixed those up :-(

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  2. And these are the guys who are writing the new Spider-Man. I'm scared. I'm really, really scared.

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    1. Agreed. My hope in Spider-Man has plummeted. :(

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  3. The Gisondo and Stebbins families: People who decided their children had to be superstars and that no one would ever screw up their plans by registering with SAG under the same name as their child.

    Thus, the Dakota Goyos and Kodi Smit-McPhees and Ansel Elgorts (sorry, Adam) of the world. Repeat after me: NOBODY IS NAMED SMIT.

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  4. I went to a free sneak preview of this and bolted after ten minutes, both repelled by what was on screen and spooked by even the mild laughter from the crowd. As you say, it's pure garbage.

    I trust Marvel Studios, so maybe these writers were under orders to produce something this vile by cynical studio execs, and their personal scripts both humane and funny. To be fair to them, one can rarely tell a writer's worth on a studio project such as this. That said, their work on this certainly doesn't inspire an iota of confidence.

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    1. They also wrote the Horrible Bosses movies which were similarly mean spirited. I think it's them. Just my opinion.

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    2. The evidence as we know it seems to be on your side. But they re-wrote the first Horrible Bosses script after New Line bought it, meaning it wasn't their idea to begin with, and they could absolutely have been ordered to make it meaner than they would have chosen - in Hollywood, producers run things, not writers. And they could have been ordered to make this movie (also a New Line joint) just as hateful. We may say "shame on them", but screenwriting isn't my livelihood, and it's a cutthroat entertainment world out there, so I don't feel qualified to judge in this case because I have no idea how many cooks were in that kitchen. (When Woody Allen makes one lousy movie after another, though...)

      Of course, I have no evidence for my best-case theory, and your guess is as good as anyone's, but, respectfully, that's all it is; a guess. And, given the marked consistency of tone throughout the MCU, I highly doubt we're going to get a hateful, loathsome Peter Parker and vomit scenes played for laughs. ;)

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  5. Norman Reedus was in the Boondock Saints movies and Red Canyon.
    He's been "insane" a long time.

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