If you enjoyed the audacious “Hangover” movie trilogy and the two impudent “Horrible Bosses” epics, then you will probably hoot at the reboot of the vintage Chevy Chase comedy “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Not only does the new “Vacation” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) qualify as a remake, but it also serves as a sequel to the four film “National Lampoon’s Vacation” franchise. Ed Helms stars as Clark W. Griswold’s grown-up son Russell ‘Rusty’ Griswold. For the record, Anthony Michael Hall played Rusty in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983) while different actors have slipped into and out of the same role in the various other “Vacation” inspired sequels. Anyway, Helms plays Rusty as a married man, with a wife, Debbie (sexy Christina Applegate), and two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin Griswold (Steele Stebbins). Comparatively, Clark raised a son and a daughter. The basic premise remains similar despite the 32 year gap between the movies. Oblivious Russell cherishes fond memories of the catastrophic cross-country road-trip that his quixotic father charted for the family and its farcical finale at Walley World. Indeed, much of the same thing occurs again. Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, who wrote both “Horrible Bosses” comedies, have ratcheted up the raunch content considerably for bigger, more brazen laughs that may either alienate or engross audiences depending on individual prudery. Incongruity is the cornerstone of great comedy, and “Vacation” delivers laughs and gags galore that more often than not ridicule the characters with whom we are supposed to identify. Actually, Ed Helms, who endured no end of ignominy in the depraved “Hangover” movies, emerges from “Vacation” looking reasonably respectable. “Thor’s” Chris Hemsworth has a field day poking fun at his protruberant masculinity. Happily, as if to bestow their seal of approval on this side-splitting sequel, Chevy Chase appears in a cameo as a bed and breakfast owner with Beverly D’Angelo reprising her role as his wife Ellen.
As the action unfolds, Rusty flies passenger jets for a regional airline, Econo-Air, and the plane that he is flying nearly crashes because his elderly co-pilot Harry (David Clennon) has no business in the cockpit. Ironically, Rusty recommended Harry for the position, so it’s Rusty’s inadvertent fault that Harry is flying. Meantime, Rusty overhears a little boy who aspires to be an aviator. Naturally, Rusty strolls over to speak to the child. No sooner has Rusty started chatting with the family than Harry ascends the jet to a higher altitude. The turbulence that the plane encounters is violent enough to send Rusty sprawling involuntarily toward the mother. Rusty winds up groping the wife’s breasts to keep from landing in her lap. An uneasy silence ensues before another bout of turbulence propels him face down onto the little boy while his thumb plunges into the father’s mouth. No matter what Rusty sets out to do, well-intentioned or otherwise, his actions precipitate the worst possible consequences. For example, like Clark, who got stuck in the original “Vacation” with the metallic pea-green “Wagon Queen Family Truckster,” Rusty rents a hideous, baby-blue mini-cruiser christened the “Tartan Prancer.” According to Rusty, this vehicle is the “Honda of Albania.” Idiotically enough, this outlandish car features four exterior mirrors; the outside rear view mirrors block the front mirrors. During the excursion, Russell discovers a swivel seat control at the worst moment. Later, the vehicle’s on-board navigation system scares them when the voice howls directions in native Japanese. Again, like his impractical father Clark, Rusty wants to do more than just motor across America. He wants his family to experience the scenic beauties along the way. They stop at a crowded, Hot Springs National Park, and an unsavory yokel suggests they take advantage of a less traveled road to a private hot springs. Little do our gullible heroes know this local is setting them up for mischief. Moreover, the gorgeous looking hot springs that the Griswolds splash into turns out to be a raw sewage pit. Murphy’s Law governs everything that Griswolds set out to achieve. Nevertheless, each of these encounters is hopelessly hilarious, although you’d hate to find yourself in similar circumstances. A Grand Canyon water-rafting guide (Charlie Day) gets a phone call from his fiancée who decides to dump him. After the Griswolds set out on the river, their suicidal guide alters course for rougher waters that terminate in a waterfall. At another juncture in their journey, Rusty lets Debbie visit her Memphis, Tennessee, college alma mater where he discovers she slept with 30 or more guys before they got married. Of course, anybody who saw the original “Vacation” should remember Christie Brinkley’s cinematic debut as a blond in a red convertible Ferrari. Writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein dream up a different spin involving this character. Chris Helmsworth and Leslie Mann show up for a couple scenes. Mann is cast as Rusty’s sister Audrey, and she is married to egotistical television weather meteorologist Stone Crandall (Chris Helmsworth) who herds cattle on a four-wheeler when he isn’t forecasting the weather. Audrey and Stone have been far more successful than Rusty and Debbie. Crandall loves to show off his physique, and there is a zesty scene when he barges into Rusty and Debbie’s bedroom. One of the funniest moments takes place when Stone introduces the Griswolds to his prize steer that craves ribs. Indeed, cannibalistic cattle are another offbeat element in this opus.
Sure, “Vacation” is both infantile and scatological, but the fearless cast maintains straight faces throughout the hokum no matter how grotesque things get. All too often in lesser comedies, the cast behaves as if they are in on the jokes. Admirably, neither Ed Helms nor Christine Applegate lets on that either know how hopelessly nonsensical their exploits are. Applegate smears feces all over her face like a veritable mask and then remarks how abominable it smells until she realizes her folly. Helms discovers that he has a severed ear attached to his own ear. The camera pulls back to reveal a sign with the inscription: Warning Raw Sewage Pit. Furthermore, our heroes cruise for miles without realizing that pranksters have defaced one side of their Prancer with a humongous phallic symbol. When Rusty and Debbie realize that they have a pornographic image on their car, they spit on their hands and struggle futilely to remove it with vigorous scrubbing motions, groaning emphatically with their exertions. No, you shouldn’t take their children to see “Vacation,” but the Chevy Chase original had some objectionable scenes that weren’t fit for young eyes and delicate minds to witness, too. Clearly, freshman directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein have designed their updated adaptation of “Vacation” for audiences that love to laugh out loud and keep on laughing out loud at blatantly vulgar antics that leave little to the imagination. If you like to laugh hard and often and you don’t mind a little mean-spirited humor, see “Vacation.” Incidentally, the photographs that appear during the end credits are creatively shown in halves. For example, we see the Grand Canyon water rafting guide in one half of the panel and then the other half of the panel dissolves to show a gigantic Grizzly Bear menacing him. The final shot of Chris Hemsworth displaying the tip of Thor’s hammer may amuse the women who sit through those end credits.