Ed Helms Can't Brush Cobwebs From "Vacation" Series

It’s fitting that just as Rusty Griswold wrests the “Vacation” series from his dear old dad Clark, the series finds itself at its most corroded. Oxidized. Decayed. Every other synonym for “rusty.”

Without a new entry since 1997’s unfairly reviled “Vegas Vacation” – a sloppy but not entirely unfunny affair – the series remains as popular as ever, mostly thanks to basic cable. Throw in the perennial holiday season appeal of “Christmas Vacation” and a “Vacation” resuscitation seems as easy a money maker as any. With the notoriously ornery Chevy Chase setting off into the Hollywood sunset, producers were left with two choices: reboot or reconfigure. They chose the latter.

Cue Ed Helms (“The Hangover”) as the series’ fifth Rusty Griswold in as many films, leaving viewers in the rare and awkward position of retroactively preferring a hard reset. The ever-earnest Helms acquits himself well enough, but neither he nor a capable supporting cast can make up for a mean-spirited and largely laughless screenplay.

Writing partners John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (“Horrible Bosses”) juggle scripting duties here with their directorial debut, all the while failing to tap into any meaningful story current. The project is nothing but the most linear of road trip movies, with most sequences being entirely interchangeable if not for geographical concerns.

Rusty sees how bored his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) has become with the same old summer vacation and inexplicably decides that a recreation of his father’s infamous, ill-fated trip to Walley World is the answer to their marital woes.

Their two boys, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), are set up to steal the movie away from their parents, but the good-kid-bad-kid dynamic is more off-putting than endearing. Kevin is nothing less than a sociopath, abusing his offbeat but sweet and sensitive older brother in every single scene while their parents look on nonchalantly.

The movie’s dearth of ideas is evident in its usage of series staple “Holiday Road” – which is heard no less than four times, but not in the one scene it should be – and its constant reprisal of a torturous “angry Korean GPS voice” gag.

The endless parade of cameos – extended and otherwise – is more of a mixed bag.

“Thor” star Chris Hemsworth is a disaster as Rusty’s brother-in-law Stone, riding a ghastly southern accent and one-note dick joke to nowhere, while Leslie Mann (“Knocked Up”) is on hand as Audrey Griswold (now Stone’s wife) for no reason other than Stone’s unwelcome shenanigans.

The most memorable performance in the entire thing comes from Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”) as a suicidal whitewater rafting guide. It’s brief, but it’s dark without being mean and gives the picture a shot of life when it most desperately needs it.

Regrettably, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their original roles as Clark and Ellen just as briefly, entering and exiting without so much as one quotable line between them.

Ultimately “Vacation” 2015 is an unknowing spoof, aping a series of – rightfully or not – beloved films without understanding at all what made them tick. Those movies didn’t depend on people purposefully being awful to one another, but doing it unknowingly. And that sense of good-intentioned tumult is entirely absent here.

Whether or not that brand of comedy would have translated to modern day audiences is a fair question, but what’s certain is that the new “Vacation” isn’t a memorable trip – one that probably isn’t worth taking at all.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: July 29, 2015
Studio: New Line Cinema (Warner Bros.)
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Screenwriter: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins,Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo
MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity)