“I will admit that the film is funny, both with its jokes and the fact that it is laughably bad at times…”
Last night I watched National Lampoon’s European Vacation, and let’s just say that it was not great. The Griswolds are back and this time they are going on a trip to Europe. After winning a family game-show, the Griswolds win an all-expenses payed trip to Europe; there really isn’t much else to say, this movie is just about these characters travelling around Europe.
I guess the first thing I’ll mention is the start of the ever-present trend in the Vacation films to re-cast the Griswold children at every turn. This is not only a bit bizarre, but I think it might be some kind of a joke. At least after European Vacation, maybe the re-cast children thing was embraced; either way it is a little weird. I’m certainly not attached to these characters, but I always get a weird feeling when a character in a series is recast. Either way, the actors changing has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever. One thing that did bother me specifically about the re-cast was the choice of actress to play Audrey Griswold. Maybe it was the actress herself, or maybe it was the direction of the film, but something just turned Audrey into this insufferable, whiny child. Now her character wasn’t the deepest in the first film, but at least I didn’t want to drive a pencil into my ear when watching her. It’s a combination of her shrill voice and her shit attitude that make a perfect, headache-inducing storm. The character of Audrey is also rather poorly written as well. One minute she hates the fact that she is forced to go to Europe, the next minute she is absolutely loving it and is completely on board with every proposed idea. One minutes she is sorely missing her boyfriend Jack, and the next (even before they broke-up) she seemingly couldn’t care less about him. Audrey seemed to have been thrust into the spotlight in this film, and I just wished that her character would have been stronger.
One thing I will applaud National Lampoon’s European Vacation on is the pacing of the film. I complained that the first Vacation film was very slow at times, but this film seems to fix those problems. Of course it is a bit easier to do, seeing as they have all of Europe as their playground. As a matter of fact, although the pacing was lighting-fast there was another issue that I had with the movie; there was almost too much for the characters to do. They were in London enjoying the sights, but then the scene changes and they are already in Paris, and the same thing happens ten minutes later when they get to Germany. It felt very much like they were trying to shave as many locations in at once, and although it helped the pacing it almost made the film feel rushed at times. So really what I’m trying to say is that they kind of over-corrected the pacing issue from the last film. It was also weird that National Lampoon’s European Vacation decided to cram in a coupe of musical numbers and dream sequences. It was almost like the movie was too short, so they needed to pad it out with something. Not only were these moments out of place, but they weren’t funny in the slightest. You have Ellen dreaming about meeting The Queen, Rusty dreaming about dancing (?), Audrey Dreaming about eating too much (which was the only one that actually made sense in context), and Clark doing a shitty rendition of The Sound of Music. Then later on in the film you have a weird shopping montage that consists of the characters just trying on clothes. It really felt like there was a struggle for content here, but again that doesn’t make sense to me because the rest of the film felt rushed at times. Then, to top it all off there is a weird robbery plot that was shoehorned-in at the end of the movie. I can appreciate that someone along the line obviously went “We need the characters to do something”, but the execution was so out of place. This culminates into a few really weird action scenes, and then the movie is over just as quickly as it started.
The biggest issue I had with national Lampoon’s European Vacation was the fact that it just wasn’t as funny as the first. This movie uses slapstick comedy almost as a crutch, whereas the first film had somewhat clever (but really endearing) moments between characters. I’m no prude, I can laugh at a guy getting kicked in the nuts just as much as anyone else, but the problem is that after you see it ten times it loses its punch (no pun intended). I get it, Clark is a bad driver. I get it, Clark is clumsy. You don’t need to have forty different scenes all with the same punchlines to convey those things to me. Now to say that National Lampoon’s European Vacation isn’t funny at all would be lie. Although the film was plagued with recycled slapstick jokes, there were quite a few moments that were genuinely funny. There was also ample opportunity to laugh at the movie, rather than with it. See, National Lampoon’s European Vacation might be one of the worst made movies that I have ever seen. It’s like everyone got to set, but then only did one take of everything. Any corner that could be cut, was cut and it is painfully obvious. For example; during the many unneeded car chase scenes it is blatantly obvious that Chevy Chase is not driving the car. “Well of course he is not driving the car, idiot. No actor is actually driving the car during a car chase”, yes but the difference is other movies try to cover it up. Do you know how I knew that Chevy Chase wasn’t driving the car? Because the man that was driving the car was not only a few years younger than Chase, but he also had a full head of hair and a chiseled jaw. And the funny part is, that’s not even the worst example. There is a scene in the movie wherein Ellen is supposed to be backing up into a parking space. It’s not even a big stunt, but for some reason Beverly D’Angelo didn’t do it. So who replaced her for the scene? A brunette. That’s right, even though the scene is shot from very far away, they couldn’t be bothered to get someone with the same fucking hair colour as Beverly D’Angelo. Hell, they couldn’t even be bothered to get a fucking blonde wig! Things like that really get under my fucking skin, but they are also funny as hell to witness. Probably the funniest joke of all occurred near the end of the film; Clark is in a car, chasing down his wife. A tire pops, and we get a reaction shot of Clark. His head slams back in anger and his lips very clearly scream “AW, FUCK!”, but the sound that comes out of his mouth is very different. See, in this movie (which by the way has a shitload of nudity) someone decided that “Aw, fuck” was too raunchy. So what does Clark obviously say? “Darn it all!”. I mean they couldn’t even be bothered to change it to something that matches “Aw fuck”, like “Aw fudge”; they just went all in and didn’t think anyone would notice. They could have even cut the reaction shot if that one utterance of “fuck” was too much for this already crass film. Luckily the film ends with what is easily the worst joke in the movie, and possibly the worst joke I’ve ever seen. The Griswold family is flying home, and Clark somehow gets into the cockpit while looking for the bathroom. In classic Griswold style, he manages to accidentally force the plane into a nose-dive and, in a display of terrible CGI, knock the torch off of the Statue of Liberty. We then get a wonderful credits sequence that serenades us with a song about how great the USA is, while playing a slideshow of completely unrelated, almost propaganda-esque, images of why America is great. This marks the worst ending to a movie that I have ever seen, but just like the ugly duckling or a horrific car crash, it has a certain charm to it and I couldn’t look away.
Ultimately National Lampoon’s European Vacation is not a great movie. Though it fixed a few problems that were prevalent in it’s predecessor, the amount of new problems that it created is staggering. I will admit that the film is funny, both with its jokes and the fact that it is laughably bad at times, so its not absolutely terrible.
I give National Lampoon’s European Vacation a B