Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Vacation (1989)

Here's a Christmas turkey.

This 1989 effort, from first-time director Jeremiah Chechik (The Avengers, Benny and Joon) offers humour best suited to audiences under 10.

Rocket charged toboggan rides, threatening squirrels, human feces, explosions, lots of breaking windows, old people who complain a lot and look goofy, a reference to a sex-crazed dog, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Special Edition) packs all of these comedic bon bons under the tree.

But with several bursts of profanity, and a hint of nudity from Nicolette Scorsese in a small supporting role, youngsters shouldn't be anywhere near this movie. Older viewers are advised to steer clear of this dreck with former Saturday Night Live member Chevy Chase in the starring role.

His character, Clark Griswold, dreams of the perfect Christmas - mostly focused on having a huge tree and thousands of lights on his home. He dreams of adding an in-ground pool to the backyard with his hotly anticipated Christmas bonus. Yep, life sure is a struggle in the Griswold home.

Apparently Clark doesn't spend much time appreciating he has more than most people on the Earth could ever dream about. He has a wonderful wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), and two great kids Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki). Clark also lives in a huge home in the suburbs, which suggests his paycheque should also earn a secular version of Joy to the World once and a while.

All the in-laws are headed to the Griswold home in Illinois for Christmas. Clark, Sr. and Nora (John Randolph, Diane Ladd) and Art and Francis (E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts) fight a lot. Why? The putrid script from the late John Hughes never gives us an explanation. The unexpected arrival of Clark's cousin, Eddie (Randy Quaid), and his family ratchets up the tension level.

There are some, and I stress some, very funny moments in Christmas Vacation. Most involve Chase enduring some sort of physical pain. He gets whacked by wood a lot in this film. Hughes manages the occasional zinger of dialogue, such as Ellen telling her daughter, "I don't know what to say except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."

Eddie's daughter, Ruby Sue, and her family live in a RV. She tells Clark his home comes with a distinct advantage. "Your house is always parked in the same place."

When family squabbling peaks, Clark tells his wife "We're at the threshold of hell."

These are all good lines. But too often Christmas Vacation opts for silly, exaggerated moments. That may be great for really young viewers, but not for older folks. It gets exasperating.

What's especially sad is the waste of talent among Clark and Ellen's parents. These folks are talented actors, but mostly they're left to making wisecracks about physical ailments and being grouchy. There's one quiet moment between Chase and Randolph that creates genuine human emotion. Then it's gone.

Avoid this film.

RATING: 3/10

FUN FACTS: Johnny Galecki is now a member of television comedy hit The Big Bang Theory.

Doris Roberts appeared in another hit sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. She was Marie Barone.

Mae Questel has a small role as another senior without many brains, Bethany. Her resume is really neat. Questel was the voice of Betty Boop in more than 150 shorts. She also voiced the character in a much better film from the 1980s, Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in DVD Packaging).

No comments: