The Wagon Queen Family Truckster, the hideous “metallic-pea” green wood-sided station wagon was a central character – the literal vehicle for Clark Griswold’s ill-fated “quest for fun” to Walley World in 1983’s original “Vacation.” Aunt Edna died in the back seat; it was airborne for 50 yards somewhere in Arizona; it was fixed by a crooked small town mechanic who replied to Clark’s request for the bill with “How much you got?” Out of the driver window, Clark caught his first glimpse of a young, iconic Christie Brinkley, sun-kissed and carefree, whizzing by in her Ferrari convertible.
Created by the late comedic dream team of director Harold Ramis and screenwriter John Hughes, the original “Vacation” stands as one of the most quotable, classic, funniest movies ever made. For many Gen-Xers like myself the idea of rebooting it is like taping over your wedding ceremony with an episode of “The Bachelor.”
Whether you want to call it a reboot or a sequel, or a “requel,” could directors/screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein possibly have the filmmaking genius to lift the garage door on the Wagon Queen Family Truckster 32 years later?
Well, yeah, because this movie is truly hilarious.
From the first “awkward family vacation photo montage” in the opening credits, to the very last, it is perverse, off-the-charts potty-gross, definitely not for children or the easily-offended, and it is very, very funny.
Daley and Goldstein co-directed from a screenplay they wrote, also crediting the late Hughes for the original. The less you know about the humor before seeing it, the funnier – the surprise sight gags, situational punch lines, potty humor, bodily functions, foul language, references to the original, it’s all in there and it’s pretty brilliant.
Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the teenaged son from the original (played with a much hipper edge in the first film by Anthony Michael Hall). Rusty has grown up to become a very uncool pilot for a very uncool regional airline, and Helms does that perfect indignant-nerd thing that he did so well on “The Office” and in “The Hangover” franchise. In spite of Rusty’s uncoolness, he married the lovely Debbie Griswold, played by the always-underrated Christina Applegate. Applegate shifts effortlessly from physical crude comedy (bodily function alert) to delivering deadpan lines with a sniperlike bull’s-eye, and ends up with many of the movie’s zingers.
Rusty and Debbie have two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). James is a sensitive teenager, and his foul-mouthed cynical younger brother Kevin never lets James off the hook for it.
Rusty decides on a whim (after a priceless dinner party scene) that the family needs to “shake things up” and, in homage to his past, make the road trip to the new killer roller coaster at Walley World.
He rents what auto he can find on short notice on Memorial Day weekend: a bizarre, boxy futuristic vehicle called a Prancer, and that car provided some of the best belly laughs I’ve had in a long time. It’s no Wagon Queen Family Truckster, but neither is the world today, or anything else three decades later – which is where Daley and Goldstein show how well they balance the past and the present. They pay sweet homage to the original film and pair it with new, original (and demented) comedy that shows the makings of their own dream team. They rarely take the predictable punch line or the obvious path.
Daley is familiar to television viewers of “Bones” as Dr. Lance Sweets, but he is also a successful writer (“Horrible Bosses”). Goldstein worked with Daley on “Horrible Bosses” and its sequel, and was a writer/producer on the clever “New Adventures of Old Christine.”
“Vacation” is not all poop and circumstance, however; there are a few (sort of) poignant moments, too; scenes that remind us how the passage of time dulls our edges, and as much as we’d like to have the fancy house, or the rich husband, or the trip to Paris, all that “greener grass” is only an illusion.
But just when we get too comfy in the earnestness of how Rusty and Debbie reconnect during the trip, along comes some bad language, body fluids and very non-politically correct role models that remind us that two warped and talented comic minds made this film.
To paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, you can’t go on vacation again. At least not that particular “Vacation.” But if you are willing to trade the Wagon Queen in for the Prancer, you are in for one heck of a ride.
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann
Director: John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein
Running time: 99 minutes
Rating: R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity.
The Lowdown: Rusty Griswold takes his wife and sons on a cross-country trip to Walley World.