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'Vacation' movie review -- 2 stars

Christina Applegate, standing from left, Ed Helms, Chevy

Christina Applegate, standing from left, Ed Helms, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, and Skyler Gisondo, kneeling left, and Steele Stebbins appear in "Vacation." Photo Credit: Hopper Stone/Warner Bros. Entertainment

The best thing to be said about this revival of the dormant "Vacation" franchise is that it doesn't play as a cynical cash grab, a mining of familiar territory for bottom line purposes.

John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, the directors and screenwriters, attempt to advance the zany-slapstick-with-heart formula that characterized the original four pictures into the 21st century's second decade.

There are sporadic laughs throughout the movie, including a scene at the Southwest's Four Corners that plays like a stand-alone comic short, and the filmmakers try to skirt accusations of simply repeating the first film by blatantly acknowledging their complicity in doing so.

Still, this is another "Vacation" movie about a family making a cross-country trip to Wally World. Dress it up however you'd like, disguise it with whatever touches you want, and it remains an inescapably pale imitator of the timeless original.

Daley and Goldstein, for all their merits, are no Harold Ramis and John Hughes, and Ed Helms seems too desperate to match Chevy Chase's patented all-American comic shtick.

Helms plays Rusty Griswold, son of Clark, who decides to bring a new generation to the mythical California theme park: wife Deb (Christina Applegate) and sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins).

Familiar hapless antics ensue on the "holiday road" from Chicago out west. At times, the movie directly quotes its forbearer. At other points, it falls back on more generic highways and byways antics, as in an extended chase scene involving an enormous truck.

It's rarely inspired, though the relationship between James and Kevin is charmingly sadistic and Chris Hemsworth makes a dramatic step toward reformatting himself as a comic actor in a memorable few scenes.

More than anything, this new "Vacation" lacks the poignancy that set the first film apart. It apes the National Lampoon formula for humor but seems bereft when it comes to showing dad's desperate love for his brood.

A look back at the previous 'Vacation' movies

"National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983)
In the hilarious classic that started it all, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) drives his family across the country to theme park Wally World.

"European Vacation" (1985)
A major falloff in every possible way, this singularly unfunny sequel follows Clark and family on an antics-filled vacation to the continent. It's a massive letdown.

"Christmas Vacation" (1989)
The franchise returned to form in the only movie that finds the Griswolds staying at home -- a fine suburban family comedy in which Clark's dream of a perfect holiday is shattered by dysfunctional relatives and more familiar factors.

"Vegas Vacation" (1997)
This typically forgotten entry, because it came after an eight-year gap without the involvement of screenwriter John Hughes, isn't half-bad. It captures the glossy, family-friendly Vegas 1990s with some authenticity.


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