On July 29, 1983, a little movie called National Lampoon’s Vacation took the cinema world by storm and the success of that first film spawned three more sequels. The fourth entry, Vegas Vacation, came out to abysmal reviews, and even worse, it made less than $40 million, making it a complete dud at the box office. The franchise was shelved for over a decade until 2015 when Ed Helms came onboard as Rusty Griswold, a man looking to revisit his childhood memories by going on a cross-country excursion to the theme park that brought him and his family so much joy when he was a young boy. Given the level of talent on this project, Vacation had all the makings for a strong reboot; however, those dreams were quickly shattered once the review embargo lifted, and the Ed Helms vehicle was blasted by most critics. Ultimately, Vacation would go to make $104.9 million worldwide, which is actually an excellent return for the film since its price tag was $31 million. The original intentions were to start a new franchise and considering the fact that the movie made double its budget back, it seemed like a slam dunk that another Vacation movie would be greenlit. However, the studio has been radio silent on the project and since it’s been seven years since Vacation came out, I think it’s the same to assume that a sequel won’t be coming out anytime soon. So, what happened? How did the reboot fail to recapture the magic that made the first few set of movies a classic? Let’s dive deeper into the reasoning behind the failure of Vacation.
Missing the Charm and Story of the Original
There’s nothing complicated about the story of Vacation. In fact, it’s virtually identical to the original story of the very first film. However, one of the key differences between both films is the cast of characters. First, the reboot makes the mistake of having Rusty being a complete idiot. Some of the original films had a different incarnation of the character, with one of Rusty’s traits being that he wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. This can actually work as a supporting character. Ed Helms is no stranger to playing morons, with the most notable being his role as Andy Bernard in The Office. However, when the show tried to make Andy the lead, his loveable charm turned him into one of the most annoying douchebags on the series. Rusty isn’t much of an a**hole like Andy, but the jokes based on Rusty simply being dumb ring hollow and more importantly, grow tiresome. It never feels authentic and unfortunately, Helms oddly feels out of place for a role that he should’ve knocked out of the park. However, it’s not just Helms that’s the issue, his sons aren’t exactly likeable characters, especially Kevin Griswald. It’s supposed to be funny that the young son is bullying the eldest, but it comes off as mean spirited and cringe worthy at times. Christina Applegate’s character is the only one who isn’t a deplorable person here, but considering the weak script, she’s not exactly able to do much but garnered a few good laughs.
Overemphasis on Crude and Raunchy Humor
National Lampoon’s Vacation is deserving of its R rating; however, the film doesn’t go out of its way to be crude and raunchy. A lot of the jokes happen organically and the most crucial aspects are the heart, charm, and wit elements of the original films. Vacation tries way too hard to be funny so it puts its mature rating to use by throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. There’s a good laugh or two in this film, mainly from Debbie Griswald; however, the jokes are easy to see coming a mile away. There’s nothing wrong with raunchy and crude humor. The Hangover – a film that Helms is featured in – is a great example of how to balance this type of humor organically. None of the jokes feel forced and there’s a lot of unpredictability and originality coming out of the situations that Stu, Phil, and Alan find themselves in. It also helps that we actually care about the three main characters in The Hangover. Vacation features plenty of callbacks to the original source material but it doesn’t seem to understand why so many people cherish those movies in the first place. Vacation is far from the worst comedy you’ll ever see, but there’s simply no point in continuing a franchise with a cast of unlikeable central characters.
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