'Vacation' Review: Ed Helms is Toxic Comedy Poison
It is truly unbelievable when you consider the number of generational stars that have come out of Freaks and Geeks. We weren’t able to grow up with those characters on television because ABC took them away from us after only 18 episodes, but we’ve been blessed (or in the case of James Franco, cursed) to be able to grow up with the actors. Seth Rogen is one of the leading voices of comedy (and nearly got us into a war with North Korea); Martin Starr has gone on to star in two iconic cult comedies, Party Down and Silicon Valley; Jason Segal gave us nine years of How I Met Your Mother, he brought back the Muppets, he wrote and starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and he’s bringing David Foster Wallace to the big screen; Linda Cardellini gave us six years of E.R., a pivotal role in Mad Men and Bloodline; Busy Phillips was beloved on Dawson’s Creek, Cougar Town, and in LIFE; and Samm Levine, well, he’s a likably annoying presence on Kevin Pollack’s podcast.
And then there’s John Francis Daley, the Kevin Arnold of Freaks and Geeks. I don’t know what happened, but he got left out of the Judd Apatow machine. I mean, he’s done fine enough as an actor (seven seasons on Bones), but while Segal wrote a Muppet movie and Seth Rogen wrote Superbad and James Franco is winning awards for his, uh, blog writing, Daley is avoided the tone and spirit of Apatow and gone off in his own direction. That direction is neither North or South, East or West. He’s gone straight down into basement-level comedy.
Have you seen The Incredible Burt Wonderstone? Yeah, well, don’t. It’s miserable. And while Segal is writing the sequel to The Lego Movie, Daley gave us a pale sequel to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He did write Horrible Bosses, which worked because of the cast, and also Horrible Bosses 2, which not even the cast could save.
And now he brings us the Vacation reboot. It’s, uh, not good. And it’s not because I have some nostalgic affection for the Chevy Chase original. In fact, the nostalgia I felt for the original was the only reason I could make it through the reboot. Whenever “Holiday Road” came on (which was at least three times), I could close my eyes and at least convince myself I was watching the first movie.
The problem with Vacation is twofold: 1) The script is terrible, a copy of a copy of the first movie that’s been dipped in raw sewage and bleached; and 2) the performances are ghastly, save for Christina Applegate and a few cameos that bring the only joy that can be found in Vacation.
The biggest problem besides a script that sought to reproduce the original with slightly modified setups to the same punchlines is Ed Helms. God help me, HE’S NOT FUNNY. He’s never been funny. He wasn’t funny on The Office and he wasn’t funny in The Hangover movies. Sometimes, we mistook Ed Helms for funny because of the funny context that surrounded him, but Helms himself never actually delivered any of that comedic value. He’s like the yokel who shows up to the metal concert with a banjo and proceeds to play “Achy Breaky Heart” on it for half an hour. Shut up and go home!
I mean, Helms seems like a very nice guy, but I almost wish that we could find out that he’s the asshole that Chevy Chase is in real life, because that would at least make him interesting. But the dimwitted, clueless aw shucks earnestness of his characters has gotta go. It’s so brain-splittingly predictable: He’s a dumb guy who does dumb things but we’re supposed to like him because he means well. I don’t care how well he means! Nobody that willfully idiotic deserves to succeed. His character in Vacation doesn’t understand simple social cues or environmental context. When a guy is standing in front of you with his 12-foot bulge sticking out of his briefs, the takeaway is not, “Oh, he has really nice abs!” It’s, “Dude! Get your goddamn dick out of my wife’s face!”
Here’s something else: I know we all grow up to become our fathers, but Rusty — in no iteration of past movies — was a hapless, lovable dolt. To the best of my recollection, Rusty was always a horndog and not some goddamn square that would end up with a formerly sexually adventurous woman running from her libido and into the arms of Mr. Yankee Candle once-a-week missionary hump. They’ve assassinated Rusty Griswold in an effort to create a shitty facsimile of Clark Griswold, and even in that respect, they’ve mass-manufactured the strip-mall version. At least Chevy had a wandering eye and a sense of mischievousness. Rusty Griswold is a half-step away from Lumbergh in Office Space.
Oh, and if you’re going to update Vacation for a new generation, here’s a goddamn idea: Update the jokes! Jokes about whether your son has a penis or vagina ARE NOT FUNNY, and they certainly don’t warrant running-gag status. Oh but get this everybody! In Vacation, the little brother is the bully. SUBVERSION! Oh My God, John Francis Daley! Where did you come up with that brilliant idea? EVERY MOVIE EVER?
But don’t forget Thor Hemsworth and his thunder cock? They’re in the movie, too. He plays Audrey’s Tea Party husband, and I don’t know whether his atrocious Texas accent was intentional or just awful acting. In either case, he’s just another pointless goddamn diversion on the road trip across America’s hellscape that eventually leads them to Walley World and a slight variation to the end of the original movie which we’ve already fucking seen.
I will grant the movie this much, however: i laughed in spite of myself when Ed Helms’ arm got slammed in a car door. I even laughed the second time it happened. Charlie Day is also very funny in it; there’s a not funny but crowd-pleasing cameo from a Walking Dead actor; Keegan Michael Key doesn’t shit the bed; and Christina Applegate puts everything and everyone in this movie to goddamn shame, including Chevy Chase. However, there are a few bit parts that end up going to well-liked comedic actors who aren’t popular enough to warrant “cameo” status, but who are also too popular to be considered glorified extras. Like, you know, it’s cool that Colin Hanks got a scene in your movie, yo!, but am I really supposed to be that excited to see the guy from Orange County?
Point being: Vacation is the pile of excrement shat out by the original movie, Ed Helms is the fly hovering above it, and the jokes are the maggots that crawled out of the feces. It’s an affront even to National Lampoon’s American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile and that movie involved a penis-ring toss.
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