The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Vacation’ (2015)

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Vacation.”

The info:

The Movie: “Vacation” (2015)

Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo

Director: John Francis Daley

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a road trip to “Walley World” in order to spice things up with his wife and reconnect with his sons.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 28 percent

Our take:

Froemming: After watching John Candy deal with his brother sleeping with the fishes, I decided to get away from classic, ha-ha funny movies and go into horrifying, oh-my-God “comedies,” and what better way than with the 2015 soft-reboot of the classic, making-Chevy-Chase-a-megastar film, “Vacation.”

Now, I watched this reboot last week and recall having all these amazing quips and asides and jokes that had me thinking this review was going to be one of the greatest JOE-DOWN reviews ever.

But because of work obligations, Brown had to push it a week. Which is a part of life.

I went about the rest of the week enjoying my own vacation, went to the Cities and had the time of my life ringing in my 40s with friends, family and merriment.

Then, when I returned Sunday, dead tired from my trip, I sat down, ate some apple pie and began reflecting on my life. In the middle of a very happy memory, something stabbed my brain like an ice pick.

I had forgotten every single frame of the movie we were to review this week. Not a single memory of this movie stuck out. I had forgotten who was in it, what happened and where I had even streamed it. This happens sometimes, since Brown and I review a lot of (REDACTED) for this blog. I blank some movies out. Usually within seven days of watching them, and I realized I had hit that limit that very Sunday.

Of course, this wouldn’t have happened if Brown would have told his boss he couldn’t work because he had a hilarious blog to write with his buddy, but I don’t blame him. I blame myself for believing he would have done the right thing. But here we are.

So, since I was so tired Sunday, there was no way I was going to watch it, especially on my 40th birthday. That would have been horrible.

So on Monday, I decided I would watch the laugh-out-loud original that has so many memorable moments. Moments of hilarity that never escaped my memory, even after seven days I had watched it in the 1980s. The plan was then to watch this one after. But, after spending almost two hours laughing as Chevy Chase terrifies his family through madcap adventures and takes John Candy hostage at Wally World, I realized watching the new one — which I had forgotten every single frame of — might have ruined the experience. So I decided to watch it Tuesday.

Tuesday I decided to drink beer with my friend, so I was not going to watch it while drunk.

Wednesday — today — I woke in a cold sweat as Brown messaged me a hilarious observation he had while sitting through this movie, and I realized I had to get cracking at this movie. For the second time.

The first movie I watched as I entered the Autumn years of my life — my 40s — was the Ed Helms disaster “Vacation,” which as I have said, I had already seen and forgotten every single frame of.

Brown, as I try to figure out your hilarious comparisons to the original movie and this one throughout this review, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?

Brown: Hey man, don’t get mad at me for you forgetting this movie due to years of beer hops and bong residue. 

So the “Vacation” series gets a lot of people angry at me. Like, on the verge of violent angry. Because I’ve never seen the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in full. Sure, I know some of the beats and have seen some of the key clips (like Chevy’s rant in the station wagon that frankly, probably wasn’t Chevy acting). But I’ve never seen the whole thing.

Now, with that said, one of my first notes about this 2015 remake (which frankly I forgot existed): “Six minutes in and I know, even from not watching it, the original is MUCH better.”

I expect Froemming will back up that claim that is not based on personal knowledge. 

So Froemming, while I fuel up our former Eastern Bloc SUV, why don’t you get us started?

Froemming: Well, we are introduced to what is probably the 17th actor to play Rusty Griswold in this franchise, Ed Helms.

Brown: Before you even get to that, let’s acknowledge two things from the credits:

  • No doubt in my mind that whoever edited this movie just Googled “bad vacation photos” and basically made a collage out of it while the credits rolled. 
  • Donald Trump’s secretary of the treasury, Steve Mnuchin, was an executive producer on this piece of shit.

Froemming: Yeah it is worse than Google image search, Brown. As someone who deals with Photoshop all the time, I can tell you a lot of these photos were created in the program. Now, the original movie had similar opening credits, except they were just photos of tourist towns like Bemidji, Minn. So, off the bat, this movie upset me. At least it kept the original song, unfortunately that will be used to beat us over the head for the next few hours and make me wish I was watching a better vacation movie.

So, we meet Rusty who is flying a plane with an old man with dementia, because this movie loves to punch down. A lot. And this scene includes Rusty falling from turbulence and his face landing in a young boy’s crotch, which certainly does not help fight against those crazy Qanon claims that Hollywood is full of pedophiles. 

Brown: I’m already distrustful of Rusty in this movie. You know why? Because a grown man with two kids and a loving (albeit bored) wife should not be going by Rusty. You’re an adult. Use an adult name, sir. 

After the turbulent flight and the subsequent sexual assault, Rusty waits for his shuttle so he can go home. While waiting, he runs into a fellow pilot (played by Ron Livingston) that is the playboy pilot like he’s straight out of the “Mad Men” universe. Frankly, I’m shocked his pilot attire wasn’t a smoking jacket. Basically, we’re pegging Rusty as a loser, which we did when this movie began because, well, he’s named Rusty and he’s working for a stand-in for Spirit Airlines. 

I’ll also take this time to say screw you to Spirit Airlines for canceling a flight that I had booked this summer, out of the blue. 

Froemming: Well, now you understand the kind of betrayal I went through last week with you.

Anyway, I was hoping Livingston would be the big antagonist in this, because he is a pretty great actor. But it is not to be. This movie is the worst kind of comedy: It does meta in a horrible way and deconstructionist comedy even worse. There is only one moment I laughed during this movie, and it deals with a meth head not knowing he has a rat on his shoulder. 

Basically, this movie tries to do to the “Vacation” movies what “Community” did with sitcoms, and it fell on its face hard. Harder than the falls that Chevy Chase endured playing Gerald Ford on “Saturday Night Live.”

So, we have this dinner scene next with Keegan-Michael Key and his family. And my God, he is the only likeable character in this movie. And I had to endure his wife complaining about how Debbie did not like her photos on Instagram. Which was painful. Very, very painful.

Brown: When Debbie utters “Oh Jesus Christ” at her friend about the Instagram likes, I did laugh at that. Just because I’ve seen conversations like that. Christina Applegate was my favorite part of this movie because she does a good job at playing it relatively straight, minus the sorority scene later.

Also, in their way of changing this movie where they’re only imitating the original “Vacation” instead of straight-up plagiarism, these Griswolds have two boys: 14-year-old James and 12-year-old Kevin. James is the sensitive soul while Kevin is a budding serial killer. 

Froemming: Also, not one Kevin James joke about their names.

Brown: We see Rusty and Debbie watching Gordon Ramsey while in bed. I bet they watched “The King of Queens” when Debbie was pregnant.

As far as James and Kevin go, this is their relationship in a nutshell. 

Case in point: when Rusty announces to his family they’re gonna take a road trip to Wally World, like Rusty did as a kid, James complains about how he’d rather take a road trip like Jack Kerouac or the Merry Pranksters. 

Kevin punches James for saying something so stupid. I laughed, because I wanted to do the same thing. 

Again, this is how their relationship works:

Froemming: So what this movie does, when Rusty tells his family that they are going to Wally World, is it attempts meta humor by literally comparing this movie to the original movie in the dialog. This is not clever writing. This is bad writing admitting it is bad writing while thinking it is clever. Which it most certainly is not. It is just bad writing.

Brown: This movie absolutely can’t help itself in reminding you that you could be watching a MUCH better movie.

And to up the hilarity, the family is driving over 2,500 miles in an Albanian SUV! And, the key fob has a swastika on it because LOL? 

This movie doesn’t go for the low-hanging fruit. It hands you rotten potatoes out of the ground and tries to convince you it’s fruit.

Froemming: That is right, on top of the lousy meta commentary and the horrible deconstructionist approach to joke telling, it also is saddled with gross-out humor and shock value. Basically, the writers saw the original movie and thought “too much heart in this.” And they pretty much approached this movie like GG Allin approached a concert stage: By shitting all over everything.

Basically, this clip sums up how I feel about the writers and directors of this:

Brown: This also brings up the point/plot hole that I shared with Froemming this morning: Why are they taking a road trip to Wally World when Rusty is a pilot? It’s already a discount airline, and he’s a pilot. You have to assume with an employee discount, they’re flying for next to nothing, so price is not prohibitive here. 

No, instead we’ll take a car built in Albania, because the world has been craving Albanian humor ever since Adil was a spy/foreign exchange student living with the Simpsons. 

Froemming: So the Griswold family hits the road and they have a CB radio in this thing for some reason. And Rusty hands it to his sociopathic son, Kevin, who then asks the trucker on the other end if he is a rapist.

Because it is shocking, the writers assumed it would be funny.

This begins a subplot of the Griswolds being tracked by a semi with a teddy bear on it. Which, yes, results in a pedophile joke. There sure are a lot of pedophile jokes in this movie.

Brown: Also around this time, James sees a cute girl his age hanging out in the back of a Jeep, not unlike Clark Griswold finding Christie Brinkley in the Ferrari in the original. Don’t worry, they’ll be more on the nose with this reference later.

In this movie’s idea of humor, though, the flirting is halted when Kevin tries smothering James with a plastic bag like he’s the kilter from “Black Christmas.”

Yep, this movie has a child trying to smother another kid with a plastic bag. This is all I hear in my head when Kevin is on screen. 

Froemming: Yeah, I wished this was the worst of it, but it is followed by the family visiting Debbie’s old college, where she is a legend for sticking her (REDACTED) in the president of the school’s (REDACTED), and was nicknamed “Debbie Do Anything.” Rusty knows nothing about any of this, which leads me to believe they have a terrible marriage. He is shocked when Debbie’s past is brought up and she runs a charity obstacle course drunk off her ass and vomiting all over the place.

Because this movie thinks vomit is funny. 

Brown: Also, why are they going through Memphis? I just Googled the quickest route from Chicago to DisneyLand (our fill-in for Wally World) and yeah, the path they’re taking to go through Memphis, Plano, Texas (where Rusty’s sister Audrey lives) and the Grand Canyon adds another 10 hours and 600 miles to this trip. 

Yes, I get it’s a road trip. They should have flown, because Rusty, like his father, sucks at road trips.

Froemming: So in the original, the reason they do not fly is because Clark works all the time and wants to spend time with his family. We know in this that all Rusty does is spend time with his family, so it makes zero sense that they drive. 

So the family stops at a seedy hotel, where Rusty and Debbie want to spice up their love life by bumping uglies in the shower, only to find mushrooms and dried blood in the tub. Because shock value is hilarious.

Brown: Also, a pile of pubes under the sink. I assume Eric Cartman stopped by this hotel on his way to the pube fair. 

Froemming: Meanwhile, James is in the hotel hot tub playing his guitar and meets the girl he was all wowed by before his brother tried to murder him. Twice. 

And while these two lovebirds are getting to know one another, Rusty comes along and is so disturbing that this girl thinks he is some old pervert who wants to bang James. Is it cringey? Yes. Is it funny? No, no it is not.

Brown: Look, I enjoy Ed Helms. I liked when he joined “The Office” as the lovable but clueless Cornell grad Andy Bernard. But like we learned post-Steve Carrell in the office, having Ed Helms as your lead comedy actor doesn’t work. He’s best in small doses, usually as more of a straight man. That worked in the first “Hangover” movie.

Froemming: Well, this is the issue with this movie. In the original, his family is normal and Clark slowly loses his mind from all the hilarious situations they go through. In this movie, EVERYONE is the zany, crazy one. It does not work. There is no avatar for the audience.

Brown: See, this is why I hate reviewing comedies on the JOE-DOWN: if it’s a bad comedy, the movies are a slog. At least with a bad romantic drama like “Urban Cowboy,” we can make our own fun. 

And because we need ANOTHER reminder that we could have a lot more fun watching the original, we get a rehash of the girl in the Ferrari scene. Only this time, it ends with the pretty girl getting in a head-on collision with a semi because LOL?

I also have to note that this woman in the Ferrari is Hannah Davis Jeter. She’s the wife of former New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter, a man Froemming has a sordid history with, according to a column headline dummy written by Froemming in college. I can’t repeat the headline here because I like being gainfully employed.

Froemming: Every word of that headline was true.

Anyway, the family is heading to visit Audrey and her right-wing husband, Thor. But before we get to the scene with Thor’s incredibly average penis size, we first need to stop at some hot springs!

Well, Rusty doesn’t want to wait in the long line and asks a meth head with a pet rat on his shoulder where the locals go. The guy tells them, and is shocked to see a rat on his shoulder, which elicited my one — and only — laugh in this movie. 

Turns out he pointed them to a raw sewage pond, where we see them smear shit all over themselves, as the drug fiends steal all their money from the car.

Brown: I’ll just leave this here because we’re both thinking it when reliving this scene: 

Now, we head to Texas to visit Audrey and Thor, who apparently gave up being a Norse god so he could be a weatherman? I mean, it’d be easy for him to be right since he can summon thunder and all. 

There’s one joke that’s made about how Thor (we’re not learning Chris Hemsworth’s character’s name) and Charleton Heston were friends and cried together about the destruction of America. I’m sure Thor also stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Froemming: We all know Trump will be reinstated as president in August. The 8chan boards I follow say so.

Brown: 

Froemming: Audrey and Thor meet the family, and basically dry hump one another in front of them, getting Debbie all riled up. Which was pretty gross seeing she got all horny from her sister-in-law making out with the God of Thunder.

This movie, it is not my kind of movie. 

Thor also has this bull that he sells the sperm of, which makes him wealthy. Thunder God wealthy. Owning a four-wheeler wealthy, And Clark kills it in front of Thor, probably out of spite.

See, the night before (I think) Thor walked into Rusty and Debbie’s room and showed off his dork, which was not very funny at all. I don’t think the writers of this movie understand humor. 

Brown: There’s also a cannibal cow, so no, I don’t think the writers understand humor. 

Now, we’re headed to Arizona, where the family spends the night at a hotel not far from the Four Corners Monument. It’s here that Rusty gets the idea of spice up he and Debbie’s relationship by having sex at the four corners, therefore saying they’ve had sex in four different states. At once!

I put in my notes “That doesn’t seem like an original idea” and sure enough, the punchline is that there is pretty much a line of people that have the same idea. So yeah, even more dong and bare breasts!

This is also the big cameo spot where cops from all four states are played by other comedians — Tim Heidecker (Utah); Nick Kroll (Colorado); Kaitlin Olson (Arizona); and Michael Peña (New Mexico). It’s another reminder that there’s people in this movie that are much funnier than anything about this “Vacation” reboot.

Frankly, I’m glad that Sweet Dee landed on her feet as a cop after being broken by her friends and family in Philadelphia. 

Froemming: Speaking of a show I would have rather been watching, the next day (yeah, I’m skipping over James pushing Kevin down to stop the bullying) they decided to go on a raft trip. And their guide is Charlie Day, and I was really hoping to laugh here, as I had only one laugh so far in this alleged comedy movie.

That second laugh never came. The guide, who I will just call Charlie, just got dumped by his fiance (probably The Waitress) and is on a suicide mission. But Rusty, who cannot read a room to save his life, thinks everything will be OK.

Brown: Mentally, I think Charlie entered his bad room. 

And yeah, things go as you’d expect: As the Griswolds battle the rapids, Charlie tries to kill himself because his fiance (I assuming it was the Waitress) was leaving him. It all comes to a head when the Griswolds abandon ship, leaving Charlie and the raft to go over a waterfall. 

… You could have tried to save him, guys. Charlie’s blood is on your hands now. We find out in the end credits that he survived, only to be in the path of a bear, so my statement stands. 

Froemming: After this near-death experience where they killed a man in cold blood, their gas guzzling vehicle finally runs out of juice, and then explodes because that is a function on the fob for some reason. The movie should have ended here, with the Griswolds dying in the dessert, alone and miserable much like how they lived their lives.

But that is not to be. Because the truck driver who has been stalking them shows up and turns out to be the star of our next JOE-DOWN, some guy from “The Walking Dead,” according to IMDB.

Brown: Yep, Norman Reedus, aka Daryl from “The Walking Dead,” a show I gave up on about four years ago because a show about the zombie apocalypse got boring as shit. 

Turns out, this trucker was stalking the Griswolds around half of the country because Debbie forgot her wedding ring in Missouri. 

… That makes no sense. I don’t think you go through Missouri when you’re driving the route the Griswolds took. 

Daryl offers to drive the Griswolds to San Francisco, all while ducking the question about whether he’s a rapist. Regardless, Rusty and co. hitch a ride with a potential sexual predator. Then we find out he’s pretty much a pedophile when he tells the family that he ties a teddy bear to the front of his cab because “the kids like it.”

In San Francisco, we get the ultimate reminder that you could be watching the better original.

Froemming: Yup, we get a cameo from Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprising their roles from the original films. Though Chase does not look like he was in the best of health in this, I imagine he filmed it before he finally sobered up from the booze, so it is also kind of depressing to see.

Brown: I would like to think “Oh, poor Chevy.” Then I remember that he once told Paul Scheer’s mom, “(REDACTED) you, lady.”

Froemming: Honestly, I would love to say that to Scheer’s mom as well.

Brown: Yeah, if Paul Scheer doesn’t do “How Did This Get Made,” there’d be no JOE-DOWN. Then again, we wouldn’t watch the “Vacation” remake if Paul Scheer didn’t make “HDTGM.” So (REDACTED) you, Paul Scheer.

Froemming: (REDACTED) you, Paul Scheer’s mom!

That did feel good.

Anyway, the elder Griswolds run a bed-and-breakfast that treats the guests horribly, which is on-brand for Chase in real life. And they have dinner, where Clark gives Kevin his old guitar that he got from Bob Dilllon. Which almost got me my second laugh, almost. Too bad it felt like Chase was phoning it in. 

After Debbie learns Audrey’s hot-and-heavy-with-passion marriage is a sham, and Rusty finds out the book she was reading the whole time was on failing marriages, we get to the emotional part of the movie. Which, given how lousy it had been to this part, I was shocked one of them didn’t sit on a whoopie cushion as they discussed their sad marriage.

Brown: And Debbie basically submits right away to Rusty because he tries so hard and she hasn’t put forth any effort. 

*checks credits, sees movie was written by two men* Yep, that checks out. 

There’s also this whole thing about the family always doing what Rusty wants to do. That’s why there’s sad photos of them in their Michigan cabin and why Debbie was bummed they weren’t going to Paris or any other part of Europe. 

Oh crap, they’re going to do a “European Vacation” reboot, aren’t they? This movie made over triple the budget so that’s absolutely going to happen…

Anyways, instead of cutting his losses and taking the family home, Rusty and his family hop in the old station wagon from the original and drive to Wally World!

… I expect the divorce papers to be filed by the end of the month.

Froemming: I have no idea why Clark still has that car that Eugene Levy tricked him into buying in the original. Also, never saw that car in the sequels, so I guess.

And this part really made me rather watch the original, because the Wally World scene in that movie had John Candy in it, and it was great!

This one? We have them waiting in line for a roller coaster for hours, only to be swindled out of their chance to ride the thing by Ron Livingston and his family, who bought premium passes.

And they get into a big old brawl. Because security does not exist at a billion dollar theme park, especially at its most thrilling and popular ride.

Brown: This is a reminder about how much of assholes my extended family and I are. 

See, I have family out in California. When visiting them in middle school, we’d go to the nearby amusement parks: DisneyLand, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags. 

I have a cousin that suffered from epilepsy and because of that, my aunt (his mom) would use his medical pass at each park to get to the front of the line for rides. Keep in mind that said cousin did not go with us to the amusement parks. 

So looking back, yeah, if a family like the Griswolds wanted to kick our asses in the early 2000s, I wouldn’t blame them. 

Froemming: The Griswolds also have Kevin, who is crazy. And crazy beats tough everytime. Unless it was Kevin fighting Brock Lesnar, because the WWE superstar would probably kick the living (REDACTED) out of a little kid like Kevin. So, I guess crazy only sometimes beats tough.

But Ron Livingston is no Brock Lesnar, and Kevin nearly murders him with the old plastic bag over the head routine.

Brown: Wouldn’t felonious assault and attempted murder be enough for the Griswolds to be pulled from the line and brought to jail? 

Apparently not, because Ron Livingston and his family are assholes and the Griswolds get the first two rows of the Velociraptor roller coaster. 

The family sings Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” while ascending the first hill. Then in the middle of a second loop, the coaster stalls and that bliss is ruined as blood rushes to everyone’s head, possibly killing someone. 

… That doesn’t happen, though, as the family is rescued and FINALLY goes to the airport. However, the kids are going home while Rusty and Debbie take a trip to Paris because Rusty FINALLY uses his airline connections to get a flight to Europe. They fly near the shitter where the flight attendants normally sit, which seems problematic because where are the flight attendants going to sit now? 

Froemming, let’s get to recommendations before I press the muffin button on my life’s key fob. 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: No, I can’t say that I would. And I saw it twice, which is a very humiliating thing to admit.

Brown: No. It’s a comedy that wasn’t funny. Go watch the original. Hell, go watch the sequels I also haven’t seen. They can’t be worse than this.

Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN:

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