Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vacation: An appalling trip

Vacation (2015) • View trailer 
TURKEY (no stars). Rated R, for relentless profanity, crude and sexual content, and brief graphic nudity

By Derrick Bang

Wow. And I thought Pixels was bad.

Actually, it is bad. But this one’s worse.

Are you sure this is a good idea? Rusty (Ed Helms, far right) insists that their whitewater
rafting guide's sudden romantic breakup won't affect their excursion down the Colorado
River. The rest of the family — from left, James (Skyler Gisondo), Kevin (Steele Stebbins)
and Debbie (Christina Applegate) — have their doubts...
Even by the deplorable, lowest-common-denominator standards set by the likes of Ted 2 and most Melissa McCarthy vehicles, this updated Vacation is a ghastly train wreck, and an embarrassment to all concerned.

I’m stunned by the notion that writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein actually got paid for their so-called work on this turkey. Where can I get a job like that?

Far from accepting a paycheck for this mess, they should have been forced to surrender every cent they made on previous efforts. Oh, wait ... that would be both Horrible Bosses entries, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Not much profit participation there.

I still can’t fathom how Hollywood works. On the basis of the above, the most recent of which was the gawdawful Horrible Bosses 2, these talentless hacks are “rewarded” with a directorial debut?

We can pray only for celestial justice: that this will be the first and last film ever directed by Daley and Goldstein.

In fairness, this remake is “justified” better than some. Rusty Griswold, the kid who endured the world’s worst family road trip back in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation (and who was played by a young Anthony Michael Hall), has grown up to be a dweeb every bit as inept as Daddy Clark (Chevy Chase, back in the day). Sensing family ennui, the now-adult Rusty decides to spice things up by re-creating that long-ago excursion.

Cue another dire road trip, with all sorts of calamities and opportunities for mortification.

Trouble is, Daley and Goldstein obviously never got past that one-sentence pitch, which somehow buffaloed Warner Bros. execs into bankrolling this disaster. As a result, this new Vacation doesn’t merely feel random, or made up from one day to the next; it’s a blatant exercise in lazy filmmaking.

Cast members don’t even try to emote; everybody just sorta stands around and intones lines, with all the dramatic heft of a toddler learning her first words. I’ll bet these folks didn’t even memorize their dialogue; I’d swear they were reading off-camera cue cards.

It could be argued, of course, that this script didn’t deserve better.

Daley and Goldstein don’t know the first thing about drawing persuasive line-readings from their actors, nor can they place a camera to save their lives. I’d love to have been a bug on the wall, listening to them tell cinematographer Barry Peterson what to do. On top of which, their “guidance” to editor Jamie Gross must’ve been equally vague, as the finished result lurches fitfully from one clumsy set-piece to the next.

The only saving grace in most vulgar moron comedies is the suggestion (often weak) that our hapless protagonist(s) deserve — and eventually achieve — some sort of redemption. Some sort of epiphany. Or, failing that, some sort of well-deserved revenge.

Not here. These folks don’t deserve anything, least of all 99 minutes of our time, not to mention whatever it cost to occupy the theater seat you’ll beg to flee.

To cases:

Rusty (Ed Helms) has become a pilot for a notoriously low-rent airline, relegated to the same daily 18-minute commuter flight between South Bend and Chicago. Wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) loves him, but there’s no denying that their marriage has become humdrum. No spark in the love life.

They have two sons: the nerdy, teenage James (Skyler Gisondo) and the potty-mouthed, adolescent Kevin (Steele Stebbins). We get a measure of this script’s barrel-scraping desperation immediately, when the uncontrollably nasty Kevin accuses James of having a vagina. (This is funny?) That’s the film’s principal running gag: that little Kevin is the tormentor who terrorizes his older brother, both verbally and physically.

Not that it matters, but Daley and Goldstein can’t seem to decide whether James “deserves” this abuse because he’s effeminate (he keeps “girlish” journals), or because he’s nerdy (he uses big words). James’ characteristics shift, absent-mindedly, from one scene to the next.

I hate to pick on children, but — based on this evidence — Stebbins couldn’t act to save his life. He just stands and spouts profanity. And smiles while doing so: not because that would be in character, but as if he’s delighted by the opportunity to get paid for talking dirty.


Rather than spend another summer vacation in the same tired lakeside cabin, Rusty borrows a page from his father’s notebook, and proposes a trip to Southern California’s Walley World, home of the new, way-scary Velociraptor rollercoaster. Debbie, James and Kevin are underwhelmed. The indefatigably upbeat Rusty perseveres, and off they roar, in a rented Tartan Prancer, a mis-designed vehicle that causes all sorts of trouble as the film progresses.

Fairness dictates acknowledging the obvious: Everything about this vehicle is funny. Things are pretty bad, when a cast’s human performers are upstaged, at every turn, by a car.

Subsequent opportunities for gross-out “humor,” feces baths and (plenty of) projectile vomiting are supplied by stops along the way: a visit to Debbie’s former college sorority, Memphis State’s Tri-Pi, where Rusty discovers that she had quite a reputation, back in the day; a relaxing dip in a “hot spring” that turns out to be anything but natural; and a Grand Canyon whitewater rafting trip led by a just-jilted and therefore unstable guide (Charlie Day, overdoing his shriekingly shrill shtick far beyond its sell-date).

A few stops are fitfully amusing. A visit to the Four Corners landmark — which Rusty and Debbie hope to “christen” with a late-night shag — turns into a jurisdictional snafu when rival park cops from Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico argue over who gets to arrest them.

Far better is a overnighter with Rusty’s sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann), and irritatingly successful brother-in-law, Stone (Chris Hemsworth). This detour offers a few chuckles solely because Hemsworth brings such desperately needed life to the film, by actually acting (what a concept!). His preening, horn-dog weather forecaster is an amusing character, and Hemsworth milks the role for all it’s worth: a sparkling diamond amid the dross.

At the far other end of the humor scale, I submit the denouement of a running sequence with a vengeful trucker, which initially plays out like Steven Spielberg’s Duel ... but then shifts into an entirely different, and jaw-droppingly tone-deaf gear.

All together now, class:





Never was, never will be. And in a film laden with lead-balloon one-liners that fail to deliver, nothing falls flatter than the punctuation of this gag: a brief comment that Daley and Goldstein unwisely — stupidly — allow to just hang in the air, granting us plenty of time to think ick and reach for the pitchforks.

I mean, seriously? What were they thinking? What was Warner Bros. thinking???

I was prepared, magnanimously, to grant this film one star for Hemsworth’s performance. But that pedophilia “joke” flushed any such generosity.

Chase and Beverly D’Angelo briefly reprise their roles from the original Vacation, and Catherine Missal is flirtatiously charming as a teenage hottie who catches James’ eye. Alas, Daley and Goldstein abandon her character: another mistake.

Actually, everything about this film is a mistake.

Big-budget studio movies are massive undertakings, even when the results are so appalling. Rarely have so many labored so long, for so little.

Gotta be this summer’s biggest stinker (in more ways than one).

At least, I fervently hope so.

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