In the first of National Lampoon's "Vacation" movies in 1983, Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold drove his family cross-country with a dead relative on the roof. In the fourth and worst episode, "Vegas Vacation," the Griswolds head from their Chicago suburb to Las Vegas with a dead script on their hands.
This series--conceived by John Hughes, who wrote or co-wrote the first three screenplays--never has been more than a chain of comic sketches, built around the haplessness of a well-meaning family man who can't talk and drive at the same time. The character was tailored to Chase's dead-pan style, and he has delivered a few memorable physical and mental pratfalls.
But there is nothing more memorable about "Vegas Vacation" than the flatness of the writing in Elisa Bell's script and the uninspired direction of first-timer Stephen Kessler. They take a decent comedy premise--how Vegas' potpourri of temptations affects each member of a naive Midwestern family--and lay it out as if the premise itself is all that's necessary.
So we see the luckless Clark repetitiously blowing the family nest egg in the casino, intercut with scenes of his abandoned wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) trying to resist the advances of her idol Wayne Newton, son Rusty (Ethan Embry) getting a fake ID and going on a winning streak that puts him in the good graces of the mob, and daughter Audrey (Marisol Nichols) breaking out of her shell with a job as a go-go dancer.
You can't fault Chase and D'Angelo--or series regular Randy Quaid, who returns as trailer trash cousin Eddie--for anything other than dipping into a dry well. What's tired is not their performances but the series itself, and a script notable for its episodic pointlessness.
There is a long sequence with the family at Hoover Dam that goes nowhere, and another on the road that repeats the scene in the first film where Clark flirts with a passing motorist. It's Christie Brinkley again, in another red convertible, only this time she has a baby in the back seat.
That's the whole joke! And, worse news, that's as good as it gets.
This is one "Vacation" you may want to put off until it comes out on video.
* MPAA rating: PG, for sensuality, language, and thematic elements. Times guidelines: Kids may come away thinking casino life looks pretty good.
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Chevy Chase: Clark
Beverly D'Angelo: Ellen
Ethan Embry: Rusty
Marisol Nichols: Audrey
Randy Quaid: Eddie
Wayne Newton: Himself
A Jerry Weintraub production, released by Warner Bros. Director Stephen Kessler. Producer Jerry Weintraub. Screenplay Elisa Bell. Cinematographer William A. Fraker. Production designer David L. Snyder. Editor Seth Flaum. Costumes Carole James. Music Joel McNeely. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.