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MOVIE REVIEW : LAMPOON’S ‘VACATION’ A PILEUP

Times Film Critic

Any European car-rental company would be insane to have the smallest dealings with the family Griswold, and the same warning should apply to any prospective audience for “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (citywide), newest site of the Griswolds at play.

At least one rental car per country is trashed by the irrepressible Griswolds--superdad Chevy Chase, long-suffering mom Beverly D’Angelo, teen-agers Jason Lively and Dana Hill--as they tour England and the Continent on a quiz-show-prize vacation. Unfortunately, ruination of property is nothing compared to the fate of the Griswolds themselves. Our beloved all-American family has been done in by a labored, witless dog of a script (by Robert Klane and the seemingly indefatigable John Hughes, from Hughes’ very own story) and by direction (Amy Heckerling) that attempts to cover the story’s bald spots by speeded-up action.

There was bite and outrageousness and a touch of the surreal to the excesses of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (in which Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis humanized Hughes’ cartoonlike material). This was writing whose springboard might have been awful firsthand experience. “European Vacation” feels as though it were dreamed up to cover the rent on the beach house for the summer.

Every moment is predictable: promised a deluxe tour, what accommodations will our family get? Roach hotels with beds like catcher’s mitts and bathrooms down the hall. Faced with a French menu, how will Clark Griswold pronounce its every word? In a way to make a Berlitz teacher howl in pain. What will happen as the Griswolds visit Stonehenge, which has stood through the ages until their arrival? Watch the movie’s trailer, as its one reasonably good sight gag is given away.

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The film spares us no stereotypes. The British? (Represented primarily by poor Eric Idle.) Exaggeratedly polite, even while dangerous Clark Griswold is crashing into their cars and/or endangering their lives. The French? Sneeringly superior about the Americans’ atrocious accents. The film makers are content to trot out these old wheezes as though they, and American stupidity abroad, were reason enough for a good laugh, and any wit to their execution would be superfluous.

Both the family’s teen-agers go on the trip seething with resentment. Dana Hill has had to be pried away from her boyfriend at home; Jason Lively is at the age where traveling with family, especially his zany dad, is a full-time embarrassment. (Young Lively will rethink his view of his family after an encounter with California girl Moon Zappa.) But aside from a scene in a railway coach, where every member of the family is deliberately doing something to provoke every other member--a scene that is never allowed to develop properly--the tensions within the family are never properly explored.

There was always something endearing about Clark Griswold, beamingly insistent on family togetherness if it killed all of them. But Chevy Chase’s sunny optimism has nowhere to go, it’s blunted at every turn by this bankrupt screenplay and direction which, in desperation, goes back to his old clumsy klutz routines. The considerable talents of Beverly D’Angelo as the perfect helpmate are so wasted it’s almost a federal offense, and both Dana Hill and Jason Lively are good enough to warrant our profound sympathy for their surroundings.


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