by Adam Riske
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.
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.
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.