It's easy to be cynical in today's world of endless reboots, reheats and bodge-job remakes. For every one that's good there's 3 terrible and you leave liking the original less.
When I first heard about this version, my heart sank. National Lampoon's Vacation and European Vacation were big parts of my childhood movie love and I really didn't want to see it trashed. When I heard Ed Helms was the lead, I was even more concerned.
The trailers restored some faith by showing it was HARD R-rated, and I am really happy to report that the movie itself is a worthy successor to those first 2 movies. Notice I said the first 2... A bit like Superman Returns, take the Vegas & Christmas vacations out of your mind before watching this and you'll enjoy it a lot more.
Arguably the 5th character in the series was always Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road", the infectiously catchy tune so cheesy it's hard to believe it's from a member of one of the greatest rock bands ever (Fleetwood Mac) and it's front and centre here. Immediately you're back into the world of the Griswolds and the atmosphere is right.
We meet Rusty as a nearing middle-aged airline pilot who has inherited his father's bad luck, endearing obliviousness to his own stupidity and misguided but genuine sense of family. His wife, Debbie is the eternally hot Christina Applegate and is a great foil for Helms... Debbie could easily be the girl from the Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker sketch all those years ago, all grown up and NOT living in a van down by the river...
Their kids are the only weak link in the film, the older, more sensitive kid and the younger, nasty little 'you know what' don't have the same charm Rusty and Audrey had, but I guess that's the point isn't it?
There is some seriously mean spirited humor targeted at the older kid, a lot of his parents responses to "normal" questions and 'help' to get the girl seem to be sending him a little strange. His younger brother seeming intent on killing him with plastic bags, which is not funny after the first time.
The trip itself is pretty similar to every Griswold trip in the past, their dramas are gross, wholly avoidable and hilarious.
One thing the movie is guilty of is showing you a little too much in the trailer, there are still plenty of good stuff though especially a visit to Memphis (sadly not actually filmed there) which sees us and Rusty find out a lot more about his wife than he bargained for.
As is now the norm in any big budget comedy, the number of cameos is sky high in this movie, some not in the trailer (so I won't spoil them) and there is a nod to Applegate's comedic history in Anchorman that is pretty cool.
The major cameos come from the Griswolds themselves.
Leslie Mann as Audrey isn't given much to do in favour of Chris Hemsworth anaconda. You've seen a lot of his best bits in the trailer, but not the funniest which is saved for the end of the film. You can tell Hemsworth is enjoying himself, making fun of his image as an action hero by playing against type. He's a worthy successor to Uncle Eddie (sadly missed in this) as the oddball relative. Leslie Mann seems as bored as her character however an a bit of a waste, can't help thinking it should have been Anna Faris.
When we finally get to meet Clark & Ellen again, it's perfunctory and seems more an excuse for one last nod to the original film before we get to Wally World. It was the only major disappointment of the film over all, maybe Chevy really is that cantankerous, but Clark never was and it seems a real shame. There is still a lot to enjoy in the movie as a whole, and some of the other cameos do make up for it.
Overall it's very crude, far cruder than it's originals, there is a lot of toilet and sexual humor, nasty jokes about AIDS & Pedophilia. So overall the tone is a little exploitation-like at times and won't be everyone's cup of tea. Some will find it wears it's welcome out long before the end credits roll. This is why it's better to take the more family friendly Griswold movies out of your mind.
I call this a Marmite movie, you'll either love it or hate it. Personally I loved it, and while a sequel is not really appropriate, I wouldn't be sad to see these Griswolds head off to Europe or somewhere more exotic for more hi-jinks.
Perhaps the best thing I can say is that the movie gets it's own problem and expressly says "...the new Vacation will stand on its own..." and it definitely does. Whether you enjoy it, is another thing entirely.