Blu-ray Review: Vacation (2015)

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The new Vacation, co-directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, is sort of a reboot and sort of a sequel. Obviously the presence of Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo (in a too-brief cameo) as Clark and Ellen Griswold solidifies this as a true continuation of the Griswold family saga. This time, however, the story centers on the now-middle-aged Rusty (Ed Helms) and his own family. Sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) pops up briefly as well. It matters little than Russ and Audrey are played by new actors—the siblings were famously replaced in every one of the four Chase/D'Angelo films. But at the same time, the directorial team (who also co-wrote the screenplay) have returned to familiar territory by sending Rusty, his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two kids—teen James (Skyler Gisondo) and preteen Kevin (Steele Stebbins)—on a cross-country trip to Walley World.

Arriving on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD on November 3 (already downloadable on Digital HD) via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Vacation didn't bowl over audiences or critics in theaters over the summer. The 1983 Harold Ramis-directed original is a certified classic, with Chevy Chase barely masking the raging dissatisfaction beneath Clark's outwardly dorky exterior. It's one of the great comedies of all time, due in no small part to the fact that even at its most outrageous (and even by today's standards, the '83 film is pretty outrageous) it never veers into total implausibility. Not so with the new Vacation. The Griswolds taking a dip in a pool of raw sewage, basking in the smell and texture of human waste? C'mon. 
Vacation 2015 2 (246x380).jpg That said Vacation does manage to be intermittently funny. As Russ and Debbie's older son James, Skyler Gisondo walks right off with the picture. The continually put-upon James, bullied even by his younger brother, emerges as the true heir to Clark's middle-class ennui. Lo and behold, James is even given his very own story arc—a luxury the rest of Vacation's cast isn't afforded. The film's funniest moments arise from James' awkwardness, sort of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid for a more mature audience (make that an older—maturity is in short supply here).

For fans of the original series, there's fun to be had in catching up with the now-grown Griswold kids. Rusty is a pilot for an economy airline. Audrey is mired in an unsatisfactory marriage with an ultra-conservative TV anchorman Stone (Chris Hemsworth, having a blast with a role about as far away from Asgard as imaginable—and wielding something even more impressive than Mj√∂lnir). Obviously the Griswold family faces many obstacles on their way to Walley World, including a semi-driving stalker (offering a great surprise cameo) and Rusty and Debbie's disastrous attempt at outdoor sex. 
Vacation 2015 BD (303x380).jpg All in all, it's probably funnier than 1997's Vegas Vacation (haven't seen it in awhile, but it was pretty lame) though it's not likely to erase anyone's fond memories of the aforementioned '83 original, European Vacation (1985), or Christmas Vacation (1989; due for a remastered Blu-ray reissue on December 1). The biggest dropped ball is Chase and D'Angelo's appearance. Rusty and family stop off to pay them a visit and it feels as if the sequence was written the day it was filmed. It could've been the high point, but it left me wondering how anyone could justify such laziness.

Blu-ray extras include featurettes "Return to Walley World," "The Griswold Odyssey," a gag reel, and some deleted scenes. The Blu-ray presentation is up to Warner Bros.' usual standards, with an excellent 1080p transfer of Barry Peterson's cinematography (Peterson shot the much funnier, Vacation-esque We're the Millers as well as both Jump Street films). The audio is presented as a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that buoys Mark Mothersbaugh's original score and pop selections (including Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road," in an apparently remixed version).

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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