Vacation


Some swimming holes are best left alone.

Some swimming holes are best left alone.

(2015) Comedy (New Line) Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Emyri Crutchfield, Alkoya Brunson, Nick Kroll, Tim Heidecker, Michael Pena, Colin Hanks, Kaitlin Olson, Hanna Davis, Kristin Ford. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

Vacations are the source of a good percentage of our fondest memories. Who can forget that road trip to a national park, or to Disney World, or that trip to grandma’s house in the country? These are memories we carry with us for a lifetime.

Rusty Griswold (Helms) can vouch for that. As a pilot for a small commuter airline, he is used to flights in which the final descent begins five minutes after take-off. He is a decent sort, if a little bit on the white bread side. He has two kids; James (Gisondo) is the eldest who wants nothing more than to play guitar and daydream. The other one, Kevin (Stebbins) who might well have been named Satan, bullies his older brother unmercifully and doesn’t really have respect for anyone to be honest. His wife Debbie (Applegate) is beautiful but the spark has gone out of their marriage in a big way.

Rusty decides that rather than go to the same Michigan cabin the family has gone to for years on their vacation, he’d take a page out of his own scrapbook and take his family on a road trip to Southern California’s best theme park, Wally World.

However, his family is less than enthusiastic about the idea, especially when he turns up in a rented van, from the Honda of Albania with a key fob that does everything but what normal key fobs do. It is the only vehicle where the cup holders are on the outside of the car and comes with a self-destruct mechanism, which can be activated by pressing the swastika button on the fob.

Getting to Wally World will include detours to the most vile hot springs on earth, a visit with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Mann) and her hunky meteorologist husband Stone Crandall (Hemsworth) who is more than happy to see Debbie, a visit to Debbie’s old sorority house in Memphis where Rusty learns a few things about his wife that he never knew, a stop to go white water kayaking in the Grand Canyon with a guide (Day) who’s having a horrible day, and finally, a stop in San Francisco to visit some familiar faces.

This is a peculiar entry into the franchise as it is both a reboot and a sequel; it’s a reboot in the sense that it is a brand new entry in the franchise after years of inactivity with an entirely new cast, and it takes place where the events of National Lampoon’s Vacation and its sequel happened. It can even be said to be a remake since the plot of this one is essentially the same as the first.

Ed Helms, the sixth actor to play Rusty (which is some kind of record), takes over for Chevy Chase as the head of the Griswold clan. Like Clark, Rusty is both optimistic and oblivious. He tries to do what’s best for his family but often overlooks not just what his family wants but simple common sense as well. He, like his dad before him, is the king of good intentions gone bad. Helms is a terrific comic actor who not only highlighted the Hangover franchise but was amazing as a lead in Cedar Rapids as well. This is less successful in that sense but not because of anything Helms did or didn’t do; we’ll get into that in a minute.

Applegate, like Beverly D’Angelo before her, is a gorgeous blonde who tries to reign in her husband’s quirkier inclinations but unlike the Ellen Griswold character, Debbie isn’t happy in her marriage. Given her wild past, that’s not unexpected. Applegate is one of the most underrated leading ladies out there, particularly in the comedy genre. She has great comic timing, is sexy as all get out and can play just about any character she chooses to. She doesn’t get the leading roles that a Tina Fey or an Amy Poehler might get (or even a Cameron Diaz) but she is to comedies what Maria Bello is to dramas; a strong, beautiful and desirable performer who never upstages the lead.

The rest of the cast is pretty decent with plenty of cameos by fairly well-known names (although I must admit that the Chase/D’Angelo cameo was the most welcome) but the best support actually comes from Stebbins as the badger of an 8-year-old who humiliates his teenage brother and is essentially an unholy terror. Some of the best moments in the movie are his.

The humor here is like a lot of comedies, very hit or miss depending on your sense of humor. There is a lot of scatological jokes and plenty of rude, crude bits that may either delight your inner twelve-year-old boy or cause you to purse your lips in distaste. Many of the best jokes (the hot springs incident) are spoiled by their appearance in the trailer sadly, so be warned. They do get the family bonds thing right, so in that sense this movie has the same vibe as its 1983 predecessor. That much is entirely welcome.

This isn’t the greatest comedy you’ll see this summer. It isn’t even the best of the Vacation movies, albeit it is the first without the National Lampoon label. However, it has enough going on that’s good to give it a mild recommendation. Think of it as less of a Vacation and more of a weekend getaway.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the scenes are genuinely funny – most of them appear in the trailer. Helms and Applegate are always engaging.
REASONS TO STAY: Very, very hit and miss. Something of a hot mess.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of crude humor, sexual situations, brief graphic nudity and foul language throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Released on the same day as the original – July 29 – only 32 years later.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/17/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: National Lampoon’s Vacation
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Walt Before Mickey

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The House Bunny


The House Bunny

Anna Faris would make a bodacious Bunny!

(2008) Comedy (Columbia) Anna Faris, Colin Hanks, Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Dana Goodman, Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis, Christopher McDonald, Beverly D’Angelo, Hugh Hefner, Kiely Williams, Holly Madison, Tyson Ritter. Directed by Fred Wolf

Sometimes we see our lives unfolding in a certain direction and we just assume that the course will remain the same eternally. However, life loves to throw us curveballs and it’s how we respond to them that really determines who we are.

Shelley Darlingson (Faris) is a Playboy playmate who has lived in the Playboy mansion for years but on her 27th birthday, she is unceremoniously booted from the mansion by Hef himself. She didn’t do anything wrong – it’s just that she had to make room for someone younger. Ah yes; 27 and over the hill. Life can be cruel.

She finds herself at a Southern California college with nowhere to go. Through convoluted circumstances, she discovers the Zeta Alpha Zeta sorority, the campus sad sacks whose charter is about to be revoked because they have grown so unpopular, managing to attract only outsiders and losers according to collegiate way of thinking.

She becomes the house mother and teaches the girls how to be popular, something Shelley knows a lot about – and how to attract guys, which is something else Shelley knows a lot about. She does makeovers for rebellious Mona (Dennings), too-smart Natalie (Stone) and even pregnant Harmony (McPhee) and body brace encumbered Joanne (Willis). As the girls begin to strut about in skimpy outfits and lots of make-up, the guys begin to flock to Zeta house, making the other sororities jealous.

In the meantime, Shelley falls for Oliver (Hanks) and discovers her methods won’t work on him. She needs to get herself edu-ma-cated and in a hurry. In that sense, Shelley needs a makeover of her own and soon discovers that popular isn’t everything.

This is from the writers of Legally Blonde and unfortunately in a lot of ways they’re repeating themselves, from the sorority culture of So Cal to the attention to fashion and popularity. This is essentially their take on Revenge of the Nerds complete with the girls dressing up as jocks and performing a song and a jealous sorority releasing a pig in their house. I don’t mind homages but this one borders on rip-off a little too close for comfort.

Faris is a terrific comic actress who unfortunately has appeared in a lot of really terrible comedies. I’m waiting for her to appear in something worthy of her talents but to date that hasn’t happened yet. She is the best thing about the movie, even though her performance is somewhat uneven by her standards. She certainly looks good in skimpy outfits.

The other gals fare unevenly, from solid to not so much. Stone and Dennings have gone on to better roles since then; Stone in particular shows lots of promise as a lead actress and Dennings is not far behind her. Hanks also has shown some potential, although neither he nor Dennings have gotten the vehicle yet that showcase it.

A note to dumbass film critics: because women dress provocatively or seem to like sex, it doesn’t make them whores. It makes them provocatively dressed. Women probably wouldn’t dress that way if they could be taken on their own merits instead of just their physical ones. The conceit of having the girls of the sorority dress provocatively to become more popular isn’t condescending or exploitative – it’s a fact of life. Does Hollywood contribute to this? Absolutely! But then I don’t happen to think it’s a crime for a woman wanting to be noticed or thought attractive.

Anyway rant aside this is a film that isn’t going to wind up on anybody’s best lists except for those who want to see Faris’ naked derriere. It has moments, but not enough for you to go looking too hard for this, although it’s relatively easy to find.

WHY RENT THIS: Clever concept. Anna Faris has her moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks execution – could have been a bit funnier. There are scenes lifted whole cloth out of other movies, particularly Revenge of the Nerds and Legally Blonde.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sex-related humor as well as a bit of partial nudity, not to mention a bit of strong language here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some scenes were shot inside the actual Playboy mansion.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a music video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $70.4M on a $25M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Perrier’s Bounty