National Lampoon's Four Vacations - Part I
Review By: Gringo

In the beginning, there was Saturday Night Live. It was the 1970's, and people like Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Steve Martin were among the cast members. Even Jane Curtin - who went on to star as Mary in Third Rock From The Sun - was a prominent part of the comedic experience. Then there was another man. An anomaly amongst the promising jokesters. His name was Chevy Chase, and he was destined to escape from television land. While all the above names eventually made a lot of money, got their share of fame and had hit movies (okay, so Curtin and Aykroyd were in Coneheads, but that's not the point), something happened to Mr. Chase. During the episodes of Saturday Night Live he was involved in, he had a perpetual look on his face that seemed to say "Get me out of here!". Eventually, his wish was granted, and this started the point of divergence from his fellow cast members. For although they've all had their career ups-and-downs, none of them have been involved with a series so wildly fluctuating in quality as one Chevy got himself drawn into. I am of course talking about the National Lampoon's Vacation series, and for no real reason shall now review all four of the sometimes questionably comic movies.

National Lampoon's Vacation. The basic set-up of the Griswold family is as follows; hapless father Clark (Chevy Chase) and his slightly kooky - no, I can't believe I just used that word either - wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo). They have a son and daughter, called Russell and Audrey respectively (I'm not even going to start listing the different actors and actresses who've played these parts, as it's just plain pointless). Russell is often referred to by his nickname of 'Rusty', which sounds stupid, but this is Hollywood! Accept the stupid and move on! In this, the first movie in the series, Clark wants to drive his family across America, destined for Wally World; a theme park whose main character is a moose. Right. Well, a mouse worked for Disney, so why not a moose? Hey, they even sound similar. Mouse, moose, mouse, moose. Confusion abounds! This Vacation is a funny one, and - somewhat obviously with it being the first in the series - comes across as original, quirky and probably worth a sequel or two. Oh, how the mighty fall. One problem is that this movie has visually dated quite badly; the tacky colours and offensive clothes-and-big-haircuts combinations on show brand the action with a huge 1980's stamp.

That said, there are plenty of memorably funny scenes in this movie. I particularly liked the scene where a security guard (played by John Candy) at Wally World gets taken on a high-speed roller coaster, but then small things amuse me. This site, for example, is one of them. When it all gets too much for Clark Griswold, he also punches a life-size model of Wally in the face. The face, I tell you! This movie succeeded because it helped capture the sheer horror of family vacations; the endless drive across empty, miserable land headed towards a destination that was never going to live up to expectations. The main difference being that in real life, family vacations don't often involve aunts dropping dead or irate fathers screaming "I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!". Come to think of it, they'd be a lot more fun if they did. On the scale of vacations, this movie would come quite high up - a half-way round-the-world trip perhaps. Don't worry, I can't be bothered to rate each movie in the series like a vacation, so let's just continue, shall we? Yes. Take a deep breath, because the franchise is about to get a whole lot worse. Praise Marty Moose!

National Lampoon's European Vacation. Somebody destroy every copy of this movie now. If you haven't gathered by now, my trusted, long-term readers (that'll be no one then), your favorite writer Gringo is British. I'm not normally the sort of pompous ass who complains when they see a movie that has a jarring stereotype character in it, especially where upper-class English idiots are concerned. The reason I dislike this movie's use of the standard handful of British stereotypes is because they're just so damn unfunny. If you're going to re-use jokes about people that have been told time and again, at least try and update them and keep the humour going. Don't just wheel out a pompous woman, a clumsy, over-apologetic, rather dense middle-class man (complete with cap), an eccentric biddy who wants to get her leg over and a fat slob of an East End of London resident. It's just lazy writing. I know that's hugely ironic coming from this site and its output, but believe me (I tell lies! Run!) when I say the stereotypes used in this movie just make it stink even more.

It's not just Britain that gets this treatment. If this movie is to be believed, all French men are sarcastic, arrogant bastards who like making smutty comments about women's breasts. If that wasn't enough, seemingly all German men in the world (ever!) like to dress up in lederhosen and slap each other about, drinking beer out of over-sized glasses. And the final treat? Learning that every single Italian man is a sex-obsessed lowlife who would rather steal a car, kidnap a woman and commit all sorts of nefarious activities than be believable. This movie is a very poor follow-up to the original Vacation and is deserved of several beatings with a shovel. For it's Europe-wide film shoot, it's a very cheap, gray production that is more intent on living up to stereotypes and playing them for supposedly comic laughs than having the scriptwriters sit down and come up with some decent jokes. Chevy Chase is as relatively likeable as he tends to be in the role of Clark Griswold, but there just seems to be a lot less effort invested in the family's trip round Europe than on home turf. Thankfully, the franchise would be left dormant for a year or two before returning with what may be the best installment, in which an old man's toupee sets on fire and there's an explosion of poop. Now if that's not comedy, I don't know what is. No, really, I don't.


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