“I’ve never even heard of the original vacation,” young James Griswold complains. “It doesn’t matter,” his dad, Rusty, replies. “The new vacation will stand on its own.”
You wouldn't say that this simultaneous remake, sequel and reboot of National Lampoon's Vacation is self-referential in the manner of a Jorge Luis Borges story. But there is certainly an unexpected effort to nest one film within the other.
The young boy who travelled from Chicago to LA with his parents has grown into Ed Helms and he is set to make the same journey with his own children.
There are poignant messages here. Rusty really should have grown into a taller Anthony Michael Hall, but, sadly, Mr Hall is now not even as famous as Ed Helms. Anyway, the reflexive fun doesn’t end there. “It’s completely different,” Rusty goes on. “The original vacation had a boy and a girl. This will have two boys.”
It’s not completely different. That’s the film’s charm. In the 32 years since the “original vacation” ate up cinemas, the Hollywood low-brow comedy has become drenched in vomit and ordure.
There is some of that here – Christina Applegate projectile pukes and the family bathe in sewage – but for the most part we are offered the sort of zany, sophomoric humour pioneered by ultimate progenitor National Lampoon in the 1970s.
The family are just terrific. Helm, whose character is less reckless than his dad, is convincingly disappointed throughout. Applegate is hilariously exasperated as the misused Mrs Griswold. Skyler Gisondo – Gwen Stacy's little brother in The Amazing Spider-Man – exceeds minimum requirements as a tame elder son who, bullied by his younger brother, dreams of following in the footsteps of Kerouac and The Merry Pranksters.
Of course, the picture is ramshackle, episodic and mindless. But, with a comic hit-to-miss ratio of around 2:1, it must be accorded a success in its (admittedly unchallenging) field.
That said, it is a worry that it took two people direct the thing. A team half that size managed to direct Lawrence of Arabia.