DVD Review: Vacation (USA, 2015)

Given that at some point everything that is old becomes new again, it makes sense that the National Lampoon Vacation series would be on the reboot agenda. A surprisingly durable series that has spanned over three decades, the latest in line acts as a semi-reboot-come-sequel with enough sly nods to pay tribute to the original without rehashing them to the point of overt-familiarity.

The original quartet of Vacation films focused on the ever-optimistic Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) as he tried his darnedest to treat his family to whatever specific holiday was in-tune with the film’s theme. Here the torch has been passed on to Clark’s grown son Rusty (Ed Helms), who intends to fill his father’s shoes by driving his family cross country to Wally World.

The Disneyland-like theme park was the destination of choice in the original film, and despite that experience resulting in a near-arrest for the family, Rusty is dead-set on recreating his past when he realises his usual vacation choice of the cabin by the lake is universally hated by his family.

It comes as no surprise that the cross-country drive is packed to the brim with mishaps and near-death experiences, and naturally the ante has been upped considerably for the hard-to-shock audiences of now (the original film would probably seem rather tame by today’s standards) but where you cared about the Griswold’s in the original and sympathised with the well-meaning Clark, Vacation 2015 trades in its heart for something a little more cruel as there’s a distinct mean-spiritedness that runs rampant. By no means does this imply the film isn’t funny, it’s just much harder to really get behind a group of characters who are more clichéd than fully realised.

Helms plays Rusty with none of the innocence that was so evident in his character as he grew up throughout the other films, whilst his on-screen children Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins are a duo of stereotypes with Gisondo playing the eldest as the family’s punching bag and Stebbins portraying the youngest as a budding psychopath.

Christina Applegate as Rusty’s patient wife Debbie is probably the closest the film has to a sense of decency and, as always, she’s extremely likeable; ironically though she probably earns one of the film’s biggest laughs when she shows her moral compass used to be a little left of centre when the family take a quick detour through her old university where her scandalous past as “Debbie-Do-Anything” is revealed.

As mean-spirited as the film may be, there’s still a handful of genuinely funny moments that keep ‘Vacation’ from sinking into the product you fear it will be with Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth both providing amusing performances in arguably the film’s funniest pit-stop; Hemsworth makes the largest of impressions, to put it mildly, as Griswold’s sleazy brother-in-law.

There’s also a welcome cameo from both Chevy Chase and on-screen wife Beverly D’Angelo, and the classic Lindsey Buckingham tune ‘Holiday Road’ is re-used here for an amusing title sequence that utilises perfectly timed photos to the best of their ability.

Vacation doesn’t hold a candle to the original with this film feeling like a reduced product to those who have grown up with the National Lampoon series, yet it’s hard not to note that the film evokes enough laughter for it to be deemed a mild success on its own accord. It’s not as good as you want it to be but nowhere near as bad as it could’ve been, and given that audiences today have rewarded lesser films, there might be enough gas left for a few more vacations with the new generation Griswolds.

Film Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

As seems to be the case of late, the standard DVD edition of Vacation doesn’t come with much at all in the way of special features. In fact, the only feature to mention are some Deleted Scenes. Entertaining, if brief, but couldn’t we at least get a Blooper Reel and some commentary?

Special Features Score: ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE)

Vacation is available on 23rd December 2015 on DVD and Blu-Ray. Film Review by Peter Gray. Special Features review by Larry Heath.