The Good: I never thought I'd say something as simplistic as: It ends. It ends.
The Bad: Not funny, poor acting, re-casting, lack of character, simplistic
The Basics: Don't watch this film; it's not funny. Honest.
I've watched hundreds of movies and listened to almost as many compact discs that are new to me. That usually brings me great joy because then I review them and that pleases me. Whenever I used to write reviews for the website I wrote for, I would get a little bead on what others think about these things I experience (or am subjected to). National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was in the latter group. I saw it originally in 1989 when I suppose I would have been 13. I laughed then. I saw it a few years ago and again in the past few days. I don't think I even smiled. We'll get into that in a moment. I was shocked to discover it was highly-rated in the community I used to review for! And yet, I had not laughed. My first thought was that everyone else watched a different film than I did. My only other explanation is I fell into an alternate universe of lowered standards, unintelligible giggling and an atmosphere filled with laughing gas. Or, perhaps, an alternate universe where the Christmas Vacation was different from the one I watched, where it was funny.
Christmas Vacation follows the ill-fated Griswold family of Vacation, European Vacation, and later Vegas Vacation mis-adventures in their attempt to survive the Christmas holiday by bringing together their assorted family members. This includes your basic lower class, RV living Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid in what I assumed would have been a poor period where he was desperate for work considering how horrible the role is and how unfunny it is; you may imagine my surprise when I discovered he did three other films in 1989 and at least four in 1990!). He's supposed to be the spoofy "white trash" character and his typical gag is emptying his RV's septic system into the sewer drain early on the morning of Christmas Eve.
Clark Griswold is determined to make it the best Christmas ever, which means hanging many lights of the roof. It also means Chevy Chase, who plays Clark Griswold, does yet again his falling down routine that he made popular spoofing President Ford on Saturday Night Live. In case the "yet again" was somehow passed over there, allow me to make explicit; here it's not funny. It's old, done, beaten into the ground. It falls flat. It means that Clark is spending the first half of the film depending on the Christmas bonus that is to arrive, fantasizing about the pool he wants to put in with the money (or more accurately the cheap vixen who will grace his pool naked if he gets the bonus and puts the pool in), and the latter half dealing with the ramifications of the bonus not being what is expected.
The humor is a lot of simple reversal jokes, cheap pokes and everyone and everything, slapstick and other utterly unfunny attempts to revive this franchise. There's a cat who we're supposed to find funny that it is boxed up as a gift, and later electrocuted into the rug. We're supposed to find the two minute chase around the house of a squirrel humorous when it isn't terribly funny watching people run from left to right frantically screaming. I mean, basically, that's what every joke in this film truly is: people running, people being frantic, animals running, gravity working, that we are supposed to find laugh out loud funny. It's not though. You've heard one sewer joke, you've heard them all. To keep bringing up the same joke about the sewer is just agonizing. Similarly, when the aged relatives appear, jokes are made involving deafness and toupees. Yippee.
There's no wit in this film. There's even less humor. The acting is sorely lacking. Chevy Chase isn't measuring up to any of his prior moments of genius (if he had it, I'd recommend going back to the original Saturday Night Live to try to find it). Barbara D'Angelo is lost playing his wife. There's absolutely no chemistry between the two.
One of my issues is with the children. Through no fault of their own, the franchise is unwilling to stick with any two actors to continue to play Audrey and Rusty. Here, they're cast as younger than in the last installment and these kids seem horribly out of place. They're not funny, they're not sincere, they lack character.
I will admit this: I did have an emotional reaction to parts of the film. In fact, I cried. Watching poor Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Doris Roberts, two fine actresses, condemned to this film and then roles that were flat, unfunny and just plain bad.
Numbers may be against me, but I will stand up and refuse to recommend this film. In truth, the lack of humor is enough. But I'll add to that, poor acting, non-existent support of a decent script, and complete lack of character or realism that sink this film.
For other comedy films, please check out my reviews of:
But I'm A Cheerleader!
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© 2001, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.