MAD: National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation

(1997 Warner/Watched on DVD)

If you’ve seen the first three of these films and are aware of the time frame alarm bells will start ringing. The original Vacation was 1982 and the kids were in their early teens. Two years later and we could still buy them as the same slightly older youths, which would be why Rusty has more of an appetite for the ladies. In 1989 with Christmas Vacation seven years had elapsed and Rusty had, if anything, gotten a little younger, and both had definitely changed personalities to more long-suffering and reserved, embarrassed teens, played now by Johnny Galecki, later of ableist yuckfest Big Bang Theory, and an up and coming Juliet Lewis.

Now, eight years after that, Rusty seems a few months older (now played by Mark from Empire Records) and Audrey seems a bit younger… this is fifteen years after we met them. I suppose this is Simpsons-level stasis-of-development but surely the Griswold family would have benefitted from the kids by this point having their own babies, or at least long term relationships, thus expanding the family itself and making for some interesting developments in how they relate to their goofy parents.

Proceedings kick off with Clark electing to whisk away his innocent children to Sin City, the home of gambling, alcohol, mob connections, prostitution and five dollar lobster. Most of which doesn’t mix with kids. And yet, like an Adam Sandler comedy it feels like Chevy Chase is pulling a burn, and getting a film together, purely to go on a real life Vacation. So they have to be awfully nice about how fun Vegas is and how grotty it isn’t. From the fawning Sigfried and Roy magic show in which no creepy old men are mauled by white tigers riding unicycles, to the helpful Vegas staff who will comp rooms to high rollers. This is the fantasy rather than the reality.

Clark blows the idea of reaffirming his wedding vows with Ellen far too early. That would have been a great reveal for later on and could possibly even have been heartwarming. Instead everything goes wrong. Ellen becomes besotted with the real life Wayne Newton looking and indeed sounding like an Oompa Loompa. Though he is a bit… rapey. Clark gambles away twenty two grand. This is an appalling amount of money and nothing makes this film more middle class in nature than the fact that he even has access to this amount of liquidised assets.

Nothing except the sneering treatment of cousin Eddie and his shit-kicking dirt-poor, redneck family of cross-eyed waterhead moppets, reprising that uncomfortable element of this series that was only mercifully absent in Europe because Eddie couldn’t get them over there. Surprisingly Randy Quaid’s Eddie actually provided us with the few belly laughs we could mine from proceedings. He says and does a few offhand things that almost seem too funny to have been scripted.

The soundtrack is surprisingly great, with Hendrix rubbing shoulders in mature fashion with Dean Martin and a reprise of Fleetwood Mac’s Holiday Road from the original. It’s funny that I mentioned the Simpsons earlier, because that’s what this kind of feels like. Not great Simpsons, but in terms of a mild imperilment of family harmony remedied by the father briefly realising that he’s being a jackass, it bears a familiar shape. I had only heard bad things about this film, so this was the first time I’ve seen it. We’re not talking great here, but I would comfortably sit this mawkish time-passer alongside the other three.

But then I haven’t seen Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, which is real, and came out in 2004, nor the 2015 rebootquel with Ed Helms as a finally all-grown-up Rusty. Whatever black magic Clark and Ellen were performing in the basement to keep their children children, routinely sacrificing dignity on the altar of comedy, they must have stopped and accepted the passage of time after Vegas. So the next time I see this I’m going to watch closely for that profound realisation to sink in for both of them.

Author: Alex Shaw

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1 Comment

  1. Man, I was just the right age to find this funny, plus I had a huge thing for Marisol Nichols, who was probably about 22-23 at time of filming. Rusty’s wish fulfillment storyline was a connective thing for me, as opposed to the Wayne Newton stuff which didn’t really connect with me. But so many great bits! Wallace Shawn was great, and you can’t beat Sid Caesar Ex Machina at the end.

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