You know what's missing from this sequel to the 1983 family road trip classic? Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo as the heads of the Griswold clan? Nope, those actors both do cameos. Beautiful woman driving a sports car in the next lane, à la Christie Brinkley? Check. Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road"? Present and accounted for.
No, what's missing are a couple of extremely significant words: This is not National Lampoon's Vacation. This is simply a comedy called Vacation. A corporate cousin of the original — but a distant cousin, just barely related by legal paperwork.
Why is that significant? Because the original was one of the last comedies to possess the same DNA as National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and Caddyshack (1980), two of the most timeless, subversive and comedically game-changing movies of the 20th century.
Along with National Lampoon founder Doug Kenney (google him, kids — he's a forgotten cultural giant), Animal House was written by the late, great Harold Ramis. Ramis also cowrote Caddyshack with Kenney and directed that cult classic. Three years later, he directed National Lampoon's Vacation. Before these films, their anarchistic and satirical form of humor didn't exist.
That humor paved the way for the raunch and studio-approved taboo teasing that's the trademark of today's Hollywood comic product. Of which the new Vacation is a perfect example. Ed Helms is a safe but satisfactory choice for the role of Rusty Griswold, all grown up with a dysfunctional family of his own. Christina Applegate plays his wife, Debbie.
Summer has rolled around and, after years of taking the gang to the same cabin, Dad has finally gotten it through his thick skull that everybody but him loathes going there. Debbie hints that she longs to see Paris — but, oblivious, Rusty decides to surprise the fam with a 2,500-mile drive to, you guessed it, Walley World.
As written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (Horrible Bosses), the odyssey is little more than an excuse for a series of gags and digressions. There's really no story here, just a collection of sketches that vary in effectiveness. Many miss, but the ones that hit are genuinely ingenious.
In the former category, there's the dip in a hot spring that the family learns too late contains raw sewage; that scene features prominently in the film's trailer, so the sight of them rubbing "mud" on their faces doesn't work as well as it might have. But the film also has several classic scenes, such as the one in which Rusty's older son (Skyler Gisondo) meets a cute girl at a motel hot tub and is greenlighted to go in for a kiss. At which point Rusty drops by in his bathrobe, pretends to be a stranger and proceeds to talk up the boy. His admiring comments backfire hilariously, making him look like the creepiest of pedophiles. Genius.
There's a visit to the home of Rusty's sister, Audrey. She's played by Leslie Mann and is married to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), so that's a fun touch. While there, Rusty accidentally drives an ATV through a bull. Just another day with the Griswolds.
I could go on, but the best things about this road movie are the demented detours, and I don't want to spoil them for you. Suffice it to say that the new Vacation isn't on par with the original. A film of its time, it has more in common with the Hangover pictures or something like We're the Millers. But that's no reason not to go along for the ride. The movie may have been 30-plus years in the remaking, but it most definitely is a trip.