Synopsis: The Griswalds win a vacation tour across Europe where the usual havoc ensues.
Stars: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Dana Hill, Jason Lively, Eric Idle
Director: Amy Heckerling
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: After National Lampoon’s Vacation was a commercial hit, Warner Brothers would have been foolish not to green lit a sequel on a hot commodity. So nearly two years to the day after the original was released, Chase and company were back with a second outing with the Griswold family as they travel (and destroy) several of Europe’s famed cities and landmarks. The result is an inferior sequel that hinges more on tacky gags than outright laughs and changes characters that had some semblance of normalcy into boneheads that define the term Ugly American.
Not everyone from the original Vacation decided to hop on board again. Yes, Chase and D’Angelo signed up as the head of the Griswold family but when Anthony Michael Hall decided to do Weird Science instead of European Vacation the decision was made to recast both Griswold children. Lively is a poor man’s Hall coming off more gangly and awkward than Hall could ever be. Hill actually is a better Audrey than Dana Barron because this time around Audrey has something to do…even if it’s obsessing over her boyfriend she left behind in America.
Chase does his best with material that he’s probably too good for. Instead of being a sort of hapless and harried dad, he’s an outright dunderhead. D’Angelo is the only holdover that didn’t have to alter her character much to accommodate the film’s shortcomings. Idle shows up in a uselessly rotten role as man that the Griswolds keeps running into…literally. How he moves from the UK to Paris to Rome is one of those comedic set-ups you just have to accept – or not.
The biggest loss I believe was director Harold Ramis who may have been too busy taking a role in Ghostbusters to take another spin the director’s chair. Heckerling was still enjoying the success of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and is an interesting, if incorrect, choice to helm this type of comedy. Hecklering seems to succeed with films that have a bit more of a subversive spin and the zaniness that these Vacation films require wasn’t her strong suit. I think the many (too many if you ask me) scenes that involve fantasy do work well but they seem to come from another picture that Heckerling was trying to make.
The blame can’t all fall on Heckerling because she didn’t have the best script to work with. John Hughes returned to write this sequel and I have to believe that at some point he left the project because there are elements so wacky and slapsticky and very un-Hughes like present. What made the original Vacation so entertaining is how the laughs come from situations we all could relate to. As the Griswolds travel overseas, the sense of tasteful humor seems like it was left behind at the ticketing gate.
There is a plethora of jokes to be made about European travel in the mid 80’s and most are mined for all they’re worth. Brits are nice even when they shouldn’t be! The French are rude even when they have no right to be! Germans drink beer! I mean, it’s all such basic level jokes that they really should work better than they already do. The moments that made me laugh, though, are the parts of the film that most resemble Vacation. These are the interactions between the Griswolds themselves…rather than the “comedy” that has them reacting to the foreign situations. Had the film focused on that more and used the European locales as scenery a more fulfilling movie would have emerged.
The film also reeks of last minute editing to get it into the state it’s in. It’s hard to believe with the nudity and language this netted a PG-13…one of the earlier films to receive the rating before its restrictions were better defined. You can tell that several F-Bombs were dubbed over to prevent it from getting an R. At one point the camera is pointed at Chase as he says “Oh F**K!” but the dialogue we hear it “Darn It!”…just another example of sloppy filmmaking. Let’s not even discuss how the family name is spelled Griwsald here but in every other Vacation film it’s Griswold.
Redemption came for Heckerling in 1989 when she directed the unexpected hit Look Who’s Talking, the same year that Hughes, Chase, and D’Angelo brought the Griswold’s back again in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. While this movie isn’t a total failure, it’s a sequel that doesn’t hold a candle to the original.