National Lampoon's European Vacation
Broad, sketchlike, and arbitrarily assembled, Amy Heckerling's 1985 film fritters away the considerable credit of relative psychological realism and dramatically consistent situations built up by its predecessor, Harold Ramis's 1983 National Lampoon's Vacation. Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo are still the archetypally square suburban Chicago couple, the Griswolds, though their children have grown up into Dana Hill and Jason Lively. They win a European tour on a TV game show, which gives rise to a typical Reagan-era range of xenophobic gags. With John Astin, Paul Bartel, Eric Idle, and Victor Lanoux. By Dave Kehr
Lampoon`s `Christmas Vacation` Isn`t A Well-packaged Comedy
December 01, 1989|By DAVE KEHR.
Even before Aunt Bethany`s cat is electrocuted under the armchair and Uncle Lewis` cigar incinerates the Christmas tree, the holidays aren`t going so well for Clark Griswold and his model middle-class American family.
The Griswolds-Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D`Angelo) and their teenage offspring Rusty (Johnny Galecki) and Audrey (Juliette Lewis)-are still facing the same problem that confronted them six years ago when they were first discovered in ``National Lampoon`s Vacation``: how to recapture the warmth and innocence of the family ideal of the 1950s in the shrunken, cynical context of the 1980s.
It`s a rich premise for satirical comedy, and the 1983 film-one of the first to be written by the madly prolific John Hughes-remains a grubby little classic.
But in this third outing for the Griswolds-following the dismal
``National Lampoon`s European Vacation`` in 1985-the satirical edge has given way to sentimentality and a whiff of smugness, while the black humor has degenerated into broad slapstick. It`s a tribute to first-time director Jeremiah Chechik`s fine sense of timing that the obvious physical gags still generate some substantial laughs, though they arrive almost in spite of Hughes` tired script.
Clark`s plan includes gathering all of his available relatives for a traditional turkey dinner, a gesture that allows the film to incorporate a number of accomplished character actors, including Diane Ladd, John Randolph, E.G. Marshall, Mae Questel, William Hickey and Miriam Flynn, though the screenplay gives them practically nothing to do. Upstaging them is Randy Quaid, returning from the original film as Clark`s dirt-poor rural relation-a terrifying vision who arrives unannounced in a grime-choked RV with wife, children and sniveling dog in tow. In this family portrait, those who are not senile are just plain mean.
And yet, Hughes and Chechik have no hesitiations when the time comes to set up the traditional heartwarming ending, borrowed with open acknowledgment from Frank Capra`s ``It`s a Wonderful Life.`` Never mind that the finale contradicts everything we`ve come to know about the characters: It`s the holiday season, and peace on earth prevails, as well as the wish to jerk a profitable tear or two.
`NATIONAL LAMPOON`S CHRISTMAS VACATION`