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Vacation review: It's worth hitting the road to see this one

Another franchise is rebooted, but Andrew Johnston is laughing all the way down the highway on a trip you won't regret taking either

Published 21/08/2015

Vacation occupies that same, odd niche as the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys. Is it a remake? A reboot? A sequel? All three? The truth is, with this latest instalment in the National Lampoon's Vacation series, all that matters is whether it's funny or not. And it's a relief to report it is.

Sure, the heart and clever wit of franchise creator John Hughes and the sublime performances of Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid are missed (though Chase does have a torch-passing cameo), but as far as refreshing the concept and making it work for today's audience goes, Vacation 2015 hits home.

Ed Helms takes the lead as Rusty Griswold, the now-grown-up son of Chase's Clark W Griswold from the first four flicks (1983's Vacation, 1985's European Vacation, 1990's Christmas Vacation and 1997's Vegas Vacation). A downtrodden pilot for a low-cost airline, Rusty's home life is also in something of a rut, and so, he decides to drive his family across country to the Disneyland-esque Walley World, in a nostalgic retracing of his own childhood holiday, as seen in the original movie.

Cue an hour and a half of visual gags, gross-out moments and general silliness.

Helms makes a fine substitute for Chase. The Hangover and American Office star may not be as adept with slapstick as his predecessor, but he brings the same goofy, everyman quality to the role, and Rusty's meltdown in the desert towards the end proves Helms understands what makes a Griswold tick.

As Rusty's long-suffering - but equally dopey - wife, Debbie, Christina Applegate bags some prime comedic shenanigans of her own, notably when the clan stop off at her former university, where her reputation as 'Debbie Do Anything' precedes her.

Rounding out the Griswolds are teenage son James (Skyler Gisondo) and his younger sibling, Kevin (Steele Stebbins). The joke here is that the sensitive, diary-writing James is relentlessly bullied by his obnoxious and foul-mouthed kid brother. The child actors' double act - which includes Kevin daubing offensive graffiti on James's guitar, tying a plastic bag over his head and throwing a dirty hypodermic needle at him - almost steals the show.

The hapless tribe are trapped in a fuel-guzzling, blob-shaped car whose sat nav barks at them in Korean and which has controls that for no good reason, cause the windows to shatter and the vehicle to burst into flames.

As with many modern comedy movies, not everything wins a laugh, but the hit-to-miss ratio is strong, and the dementedly caustic nature of proceedings compensates for the lack of any real meaning to the tale (no midlife crisis subtext here). Indeed, the material is so hard-edged, even the picture's 15 certificate at times seems inadequate.

Sadly, 71-year-old Chase's disturbing physical condition undermines much of the humour that should have accompanied the veteran's appearance, and his screen wife Beverly D'Angelo, aka Ellen Griswold, may as well not have bothered turning up, for all she's given to do.

Still, screenwriters and first-time directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses) understand the genre and keep things rattling along to a suitably nutty denouement at Walley World.

As for the Griswolds, whether this new-look line-up get to embark on further adventures will likely depend on how this entry does at the box office, but for now, this is one Vacation worth taking.

Four stars

Belfast Telegraph

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