Monday, December 16, 2013

Vacation Retrospective: Vegas Vacation (1997)

Vegas Vacation
Director: Stephen Kessler
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Ethan Embry, Marisol Nichols, Randy Quaid, Wayne Newton, Miriam Flynn
Rated: PG

Every time I belch, the plate shifts and my legs give out. But man, what a view!
                                       ~Cousin Eddie

Eight years later and what seemed like out of nowhere we get Vegas Vacation.  The Griswolds return with new actors playing the children and have another adventure.  This time it feels that maybe there's only so much you can do.  Narratively, I really like where the movie takes the family and other characters.  It also has some very nice connections to the original and other films in the series.  But, from the comedy standpoint it feels as if this series is pretty much out of gas with its retread jokes and obvious environmentally related sequences.  There's also a more than necessary reliance on Cousin Eddie more than before as well.
The comedy in this one feels kind of like the version of European Vacation that actually got and understood the characters better.  There's the typical Vegas jokes that are spread throughout the film.  Its rated PG this time around so a lot of the better humor that could have been explored using Vegas is now neutered by a family friendly rating.  If any of the Griswold's vacations should have been R rated, its Vegas.  I am surprised at some things they are able to pull off however.  I think this is a case where they were shooting for a PG-13 and might have been surprised when they got a PG rating.  There is one sequence in this movie that is "jet scene from Live Free Or Die Hard" worthy revolving around the Hoover Dam.  Its incredibly stupid.   I can see this as a point where many people stop the movie and give up.  The scene is so offbeat and stupid that it almost harms the surrounding feature.  This movie is not as bad as this bit portrays.  Just skip it when watching.  You'll save time and have a much more pleasant experience.
I really like the script's decision to display a bunch of role reversals.  The other films relished in finding ways to retell certain plot points each time, this is the first one to switch it out.  This time its Ellen who is challenged with an adulterous situation with Wayne Newton.  Clark has to go to Eddie when he's in a hard spot and needs financial help.  Eddie also gets to feel the agony of watching Clark make questionable decisions with his money.  From a narrative standpoint, its actually kind of refreshing to see them turn the tables instead of doing the same things a fourth time.  And they could've done such as it was 8 years later.
Vegas Vacation also gives us the most attention and care to Audrey and Rusty (Yay, Ethan Embry!) this time.  They both get side storylines and development throughout the course of the movie.  Its their own stuff too and isn't in effect to any other characters.  There's also some growth and further development of Eddie's older daughter and the rekindling of her friendship with Audrey from the first movie.  While this movie has some lamer comedy, it needs to be credited as it does pay a fair amount of attention to all of its characters in the main cast.
This is the first one that had no John Hughes involvement.  And, it doesn't show too much.  The movie and series at this venture just looks and feels a bit tired.  Which is odd, because it had 8 years and was coming off a very successful entry.  Comedy sequels and franchises are a difficult thing.  Its hard to keep it fresh as most of them do a lot of "remember me" type jokes.  From a narrative and character development angle, Vegas Vacation is pretty successful and feels like a really nice capper to the series.  However, this is a comedy and not a drama, and when there are more eye rolls than big laughs its a bit of a let down.  So its really 50/50.  I don't think this movie is terrible, it has one terrible scene, but overall its somewhat mediocre/enjoyable.

Next Time:  God...I don't even want to think about it.

No real song significant to this one ("Holiday Road" does return), but this did play while super cute Marisol Nichols danced on a sign.

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