National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going on a trip.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to drive his family of four from Chicago to California in order to visit the world famous amusement park of Wally World. Sure they could’ve flown, but he feels that getting there is ‘half the fun’, so they pack up their station wagon while losing their luggage along the way, running out of money, getting stranded in the desert and forced to take along the crabby Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) who makes everyone miserable.

The film is loaded with laugh-out-loud gags particularly at the beginning. I enjoyed the snapshots of touristy places that get shown over the opening credits as they look exactly like homemade pics stripped directly from somebody’s family album. Clark’s attempts to recreate their proposed trip on the computer only to have his animated station wagon eaten up by a Pacman-like monster is hilarious and imaginative. The scene showing him trying to get back into his old car after its been crushed, or falling asleep at the wheel and driving haphazardly off the road only to end up miraculously at a hotel are also quite good.

The screenplay was written by John Hughes and based on a story he wrote for the September 1979 issue of National Lampoon’s magazine. The plot nicely tackles all the problems that can occur on a typical family outing. Everything from having to visit boring in-laws to squabbling kids in the backseat get comically examined and most likely will remind everyone of their own family trips that started out fun, but turned into a nightmare.

I enjoyed seeing comic legends Eddie Bracken and Imogene Coca cast in supporting roles as well as other recognizable stars popping up for brief bits. This is also the best casting of Rusty and Audrey and watching the kids being the sensible ones while the Dad is more child-like is fun. However, their lack of appreciation for the song ‘Mockingbird’, which Chase and Beverly D’Angelo do an admirable rendition of, is outrageous even for teens and should’ve been enough to have them thrown into Lake Michigan immediately!

The script though begins to go off its hinges with the running joke involving supermodel Christie Brinkley. She plays a hot babe who seems for some strange reason to be attracted to middle-age schmuck Clark. The script was originally written to have this as Rusty’s sexual fantasy, which might’ve worked better, but as it is here it makes no sense.  The character drives so fast in her sporty red convertible that she should remain miles ahead of them and yet she is constantly repassing them almost like she’s a stalker and the odds that she would’ve coincidently been staying at the same hotel as them, out of the thousands that are out there, are astronomically slim. It all might’ve been saved, at least for the male viewers, had she gone nude, which was the original intent, but she refused. In either case it’s a boring bit that is not funny, or believable, or for that matter even sexy.

Spoiler Alert!

I also found the ending to be a letdown. The original one had Clark purchasing a BB gun and using it to invade the home owned by Wally (Eddie Bracken) after they find that his amusement park has been temporarily shut down and then forcing him and his associates to sing some songs before the SWAT team closes in. However, this ending rated poorly with test audiences so it was changed to where Clark and the family invade the park itself and force a security guard, amusingly played by John Candy, to take them on the rides while threatening him with the same type of BB gun.

Personally I disliked both endings because they are over-the-top and make little sense. There is no way that an amusement park would completely shut down for 2-weeks to make repairs especially in the middle of summer, which it is at the height of tourist season and risks too much of a loss of revenue. Certain individual rides may get shut down from time-to-time, but not the whole place. There is also never any explanation as to who is running the rides from the ground that the Griswolds and the security guard go on. Some may argue that it might be done by the black security guard, which is played by actor Frank McRae, but this is never explicitly shown or implied, so it therefore cannot be automatically assumed.

It also takes away too much from the film’s overall theme, which was making fun of less than ideal situations that occur on a lot of family vacations. Yes they do get exaggerated for comical purposes, but there was still a grain of truth to it while the ending instead borders on the surreal.

A better version would’ve been to have the family go to the park and have it open for business as expected, but then get caught up in a lot of crowds, long lines, overly priced rides and roller coasters that made them physically sick, which it did to the cast in real-life anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite some of the script’s weaknesses this is still the funniest installment to the Griswold adventures and far better than its 4 sequels or the 2015 reboot. I also enjoyed the on-location shooting as well as the music by Lindsey Buckingham. His song ‘Holiday Road’, which gets played during the film’s opening, has become the mainstay to the franchise even I found ‘Dancing Across the U.S.A’ that gets played over the closing credits to be better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

One response to “National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

  1. I’ve always loved that poster! Anyhow, the first and best Vacation movie. I do love the Xmas movie, though.

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