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Monday, April 15, 2024

The newest installment of the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” series was released last week, only to be met with overly harsh criticism. Though it’s necessary to swallow any preconceived ideas of high comedy prior to seeing “Vacation,” the film is not bad — idiotic, yes, but certainly not the terrible movie it’s been made out to be.

Following a different generation of the Griswold family on another disastrous road trip to the fictional Walley World, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s directorial debut tries to one-up its predecessors with new gags and embarrassments. 

Ed Helms plays the grown-up Rusty Griswold, now an awkward family man and catastrophic pilot who pushes his family to revisit his childhood trip. Rusty’s wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), longs for a more romantic getaway, but still agrees to enter the misshapen, ridiculous vehicle her husband bought just for the road. 

Taking up the backseat are the couple’s kids: virginal James and young, foul-mouthed Kevin (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins, respectively). Add in a role reprisal from Chevy Chase, as well as a conservative Chris Hemsworth with prop genitals, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good setup for shenanigans — some disturbing shenanigans. 

That often-overlooked viewer discretion warning before movies should not be taken lightly in regard to “Vacation.” Although the film isn’t disgusting in the sense that it’s gory or overly revealing, it’s nasty more so because of its content. 

Death, violence, cannibalism and heavy involvement of human excrement are all presented in a light and fun manner. It isn’t surprising why some may not be amused, but with the film’s good timing and over-the-top situational humor, it’s hard to believe anyone can be so pretentious about comedy as to not crack a smile. 

As offensive as this humor can be, a lot of it is actually very liberal. The character of Debbie gets respect even during sensitive topics of sexuality that could easily fall prey to sexist tropes. There’s even positive mentions of gender fluidity in the first scenes. 

Outside the humor, the film’s plot is a little lacking, but there’s just enough chemistry between the actors to keep up some charade of charm. What initially came off as unpromising — even the opening credits featured unfunny family photos probably just pulled from the Internet — proved to be an absurdly hysterical movie in spite of its recycled story.

[A version of this story ran on page 10 on 8/5/15]

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