Sunday, 23 August 2015

Film Review: Vacation

Pack your suitcase and don the SPF 60 because it's time to hit the road and go on a summer vacation in, well, Vacation. Starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, this fun comedy does enough to warrant the price of admission - but only just. 

Everyone has had one. A crappy family holiday. I know that sounds really mean and selfish, but you know it's true. Arguments and disagreements are unavoidable. At some point or another on a family trip, there is going to be a falling out that makes you resent everyone and wish you were back at home. It's for this reason that Vacation is a trip so instantly familiar and relatable. Although, I don't remember ever having a family holiday quite as crap as this...

With fond memories of spending a magical summer on the road to Wally World during his youth, family man Russell Griswold (Helms) decides to embark on a similar roadtrip with his wife Debbie (Applegate) and two kids, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Each with their own set of issues (boredom, awkwardness, cruel and bullying tendencies), the family can never seem to get along, but Rusty is keen to show them that they're a healthy, loving family during their trip.

So they all pile into a bizarre Romanian people carrier and set off on the 1200km roadtrip to Wally World, via all sorts of adventures, mishaps and hijinks. . Whether it's white water rafting through the grand canyon or pissing off seedy truckers, everything seems to go awry from the Griswolds, testing the limits of their familial bond.

Comedies are very hit and miss for me, and it's not often that something really special comes along and totally wins me over. Vacation doesn't do anything to alter this perception; it's sporadically funny and the characters do make you laugh, but with a regularity and consistency that rivals Aussie public transport. For every chuckle-worthy moment, there is another that falls utterly flat.

Ed Helms (or as I like to call him, 'other-Jason-Sudekis) adopts his normal goofy persona from The Hangover movies. He's dim-witted, but ultimately likeable; a bit like Chevy Chase's character from the original Vacation movies. Speaking of whom, Chase makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film, reprising his role as Clark. He looks a little lost if you ask me, out of place in front of the camera again after walking out on Community. Still, in between aimlessly mumbling he does get a couple of solid jokes in there. Christina Applegate was pretty good as Rusty's wife too. Where audiences will struggle is with the two kids; they're a bit like Marmite in that you'll either love them, or hate them.

The same can be said for the humour in Vacation; it was pretty evident from the trailer that this film was going to divide people. At times, the jokes are unsophisticated, gross and downright dumb. From the family unknowingly swimming in waste water to narrowly escaping death by waterfall, the majority of the jokes in Vacation are just plain silly or sickening, such as Applegate downing a pitcher of beer and then spewing all over an obstacle course. That's about as sophisticated as it gets. Whether this is your cup of tea or not will predetermine how much you enjoy the movie.

That being said, the film does have a wry sense of self-knowing that pokes fun at itself; Vacation openly makes reference to its legacy by having Helms practically look into the camera and give a speech about how this new, updated vacation will be just as much fun as the "original Vacation". It's just subtle enough that it could go completely unnoticed, which I appreciated.

The highlight is a brief cameo from Chris Hemsworth as the buff uncle, Stone. When he's not expressing an odd obsession with faucet-based metaphors or herding cattle on his quad, Hemsworth spends 80% of his screen time roaming around in just his undies showcasing his, ahem, sizeable package. That's really there is to it. Lots of dick jokes.

Other cameos include Charlie Day as a suicidal raft instructor, Keegan-Michael Key as a family friend and Nick Kroll and Michael Pena as police officers. They vary in funniness, with Day coming out on top.

The Verdict: 5.5/10

I had fun with this film, but I don't see it working for everyone. The jokes are hit and miss, but the core cast are solid enough to work as an entertaining, in-fighting family unit. 

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