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'Vacation': Does it rely solely on gross-out humor?

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(Read caption) 'Vacation' stars (from l.) Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Christina Applegate, and Ed Helms.

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“Vacation” is a continuation of the story of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and is markedly different from the original – but is that a good thing?

The new movie stars Ed Helms of “The Office” as Rusty Griswold, Clark Griswold’s now-adult son who, remembering the vacations he took with his family as a child, decides to embark on a trip of his own with his family. Christina Applegate of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” Steele Stebbins, and Skyler Gisondo co-star. 

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The first film, which was released in 1983, has become a comedy classic – it was directed by “Ghostbusters” actor Harold Ramis and written by John Hughes, who wrote and/or directed such 1980s classics as “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” It starred Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, and Dana Barron. It was notable more for boundary-pushing humor than gross-out humor.

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But many reviewers are complaining about the gags in the new movie, primarily because they seem to be focused on disgusting the audience as much as possible, and that seems to be all there is to the movie’s humor. The movie includes extended jokes about vomit, human excrement, and animal body parts and one critic wrote that the co-directors, Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, “substitute coarseness for genuine cleverness…. a sequence [with vomiting] is a prime example of this film’s mood of excess…. another scene [with an animal being killed is] strictly for viewers who confuse unprecedented grossness with delicious drollness.”

Another reviewer said that the film has “the sort of self-congratulatory vulgarity that seems to have spewed forth from the (junior high) locker room instead of the writers room.” Another wrote that the film “ups the gross-out ante without actually bothering to bring the Griswolds into the 21st century.” 

Gross-out humor is, of course, not new, but what would convince directors to amp up its presence in a movie? Some recent big comedy hits have had their share of gross-out humor, which may lead studio executives to imagine that it’s what audiences want to see. But these hit comedies weren’t solely focused on it.

The 2011 smash hit “Bridesmaids” had a scene set in a bridal shop that involved crude humor, but the real focus was the relationship between protagonist Annie (Kristen Wiig) and her best friend, bride-to-be Lillian. Overall, reviewers considered the movie “beguilingly witty” and “clever.” And recent box office hit “Neighbors,” which also had various over-the-top gags, also had story lines – about a couple worried about losing their cool status when a fraternity moves in next door and college students concerned with their futures – that reviewers found engaging. One critic wrote that “the fully developed relationships between the characters ground the film,” while another said of the film, “You expect hardcore hilarity from ‘Neighbors,’ and you get it. It's the nuance that sneaks up on you.” 

The problem with “Vacation” seems to be that even for those who aren’t offended by gross-out humor, there's nothing more to the film. 

“Vacation” will be released on July 29.


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