Feeling like his life and family have reached a bit of a rut, now grown up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) decides to relive what he delusionally thinks was one of the best times of his life: a vacation to the fabled Wally World theme park. He embarks on the journey in a crappy foreign rental car alongside his skeptical wife (Christina Applegate), his shy, eldest son (Skyler Gisondo), and his obnoxious, foul mouthed youngest (Steele Stebbins). Hijinks and wackiness ensues.
More of a remake or a reboot than a proper sequel to the John Hughes started franchise that originally starred Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, the updated, but just as raunchy and un-PC Vacation lives and dies by the inevitable comparisons to its predecessors. Although copping to the fact that the other entries in the franchise existed, the script from writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (the writing team responsible for both Horrible Bosses films) leans far too heavily on the good will millenials have for the original films.
Constantly coming up with outlandish callbacks while equally going out of their way to show how self-aware and reflexive their take on the road movie is leads Daley and Goldstein’s screenplay to come across as mean or cynical instead of misanthropic, edgy humour. There’s a distinct difference, and after an initially hilarious set-up, the film begins running out of steam after only thirty minutes. On the page Daley and Goldstein aren’t original writer John Hughes, and they certainly don’t have the talent for subtlety that original franchise director Harold Ramis had.
That’s not to say that the entire endeavour is a wash. I actually laughed quite heartily in spots, especially during a river rafting trip from hell under the guidance of a man with a death wish (played memorably by Charlie Day) and a memorable side trip to the home of Rusty’s sister (Leslie Mann) where we meet her alpha-male husband (Chris Hemsworth, having more of a blast than I think anyone has seen him have). When the film works, it works very well, but that degree of zaniness can’t be sustained.
Helms and Applegate are fine leads, and the kids rightfully steal the show from them at almost every turn, but it’s hard not to wish there was just a little more thought put into this effort than there was. It feels forced and smug rather than an organic, loving reboot. It’s actually pretty close to being a decent comedy, which only serves to magnify its many flaws.