Movie Review: Vacation (2015) – The Laugh Out Loud Moments Are Gone

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The Griswold family was a staple of my childhood. Watching Chevy Chase as everyman Clark Griswold, as he took his family on European vacations, family vacations, Christmas vacations and even a Vegas vacation was one of my first exposures to comedy. So I was thrilled when they decided to revamp the series, focusing on Clark’s now adult son Rusty. I was so excited. I was excited like that time I got flowers at work on Valentine’s Day.

And much like that time, it ended in disappointment. Just like those flowers, this movie was not for me.

Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) is a married father of two, who is planning a family trip from Chicago to California’s Walley World for Memorial Day Weekend. His goal is to fix the first vacation from the original family vacation movie, where they wound up at Wally World only to learn it was closed. They break the fourth wall early on for skeptical audiences.

“You want to redo your vacation?” asks wife Debbie (Christina Applegate). “My vacation had a boy and a girl,” Rusty retorts. “This one has two boys. And I’m sure there will be plenty of other differences.” That was cute, but then they just wouldn’t stop! “I’ve never heard of the original vacation,” says Rusty’s son James (Skyler Gisondo). “It doesn’t matter,” insists Dad. “The new vacation will stand on its own.”

We get it, ok. Let it go. Breaking the fourth wall requires surgeon like precision, not bashing us over the head with it over and over again.

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Of course, the road trip is filled with peril and calamity. That’s where the similarities end, because this time, the laugh out loud moments are gone, replaced with fist fights and curse words. When someone isn’t swearing or fighting, it’s just dead air, like the movie was directed by a poorly maintained radio station.

Rusty Griswold never had a good vacation, not even once. The filmmakers could have seized on this as the overwhelming theme of the movie. Instead, they insisted on referencing the old movie to bring back shades of nostalgia to an audience who knew and loved the originals.

The problem is this movie is nothing like the originals. Not even the poorly done Vegas vacation, which was a shameless cash grab. That’s right, this movie doesn’t even compare to the worst of the franchise. I felt like they wrote a basic outline of the script, and then told the actors to improv. The problem was that Ed Helms is the only one who knows anything about improv and even he didn’t bring it in this movie.

If you want to revel in nostalgia, I highly recommend watching the other family vacation movies. Those actually provided the ability to laugh, even at incredibly inappropriate times (like the whole dog getting leashed to the rear bumper and forgotten). Chevy Chase made Clark Griswold both likeable and annoying in one fell swoop. I thought Ed Helms would be able to do the same for Rusty, but honestly, it was an outright fail.

WE GAVE IT: 2 Stars – Watch the Official Trailer and Official Movie Poster below!

2 Stars

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Movie Review: Rio 2 (2014)

300px-Rio_2_poster_it's_on_in_the_amazonThis is no Frozen or Lego Movie

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I was really excited for the release of Rio 2, as I was such a big fan of the original. I was actually the creepy adult in the audience, who went to see it without a kid! But I’m very disappointed to say, Rio 2 fell short of expectations.

In Rio 2, we are reunited with Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), and Jewel (Anne Hathaway). The two now have children and have just moved to the wilds of the Amazon, where they discover a large group of endangered birds. As Blu struggles to fit in, he comes face to face with the movies first villain Big Boss (Miguel Ferrer), who apparently hates endangered species and tree huggers.

First, if a child’s movie is going to have an adult style agenda, then they need to make it fun for the adults to watch as well. In the first Rio, while the movie did seem to focus on the evils of endangered specials smuggling, they didn’t cram the agenda down our throats. Rio 2 plays out like a very poorly researched ‘save the planet’ documentary with musical numbers and talking birds.

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The movie is visually stunning and the animators took full advantage of the beautiful colors and adorable animals. I guess if you watched it on mute, it might be ok.

The plot is recycled from the first movie. In the original Rio, Blu was a fish out of water, a pampered house pet living in the suburbs. In Rio 2, he is a less pampered city bird, forced to move to the wild.

Also, I don’t remember quite as many musical numbers in the first one. While a song or two can help jazz up a movie, it really feels like the script was padded with musical numbers because they didn’t have enough material.

The movie did have its cute points, like Blu using a nerdy fanny pack with a GPS to travel, but it really isn’t anything new. The freshness and the humor in the last one is gone in this one, and the entire movie feels like a series of musical numbers.

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The movie runs about 1 hour and 41 minutes. By my estimation, about 1 hour and 20 minutes were musical numbers, while the rest was just a bunch of jumbled plot points. There are too many things going on, and no one stops singing long enough to explain it.

It’s cute, it’s sweet and kids will love it. But it by no means stands out. This is no Frozen or Lego Movie. This is a recycled movie, with recycled characters, fleshed out with musical numbers. This is the kind of movie that you watch because your kids make you, and then forget about it.

Expect to see a Rio 3, and a Rio 4 and a Rio 5…This movie is a clear money grab, with producers trying to squeeze as much revenue and merchandising as they can out of the franchise. My guess will be the next movie will be a fish out of water story where Blu leaves the Amazon to go live somewhere else, where everyone will think he is a nerd.  Watch the official trailer below:

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Movie Review: Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014) movie posterNOT AS SMART AS THE ORIGINAL BUT STILL A REAL TREAT

Star Ratings

I am so glad I have a kid, because I can go to children’s movies without looking like a complete weirdo. While occasionally, it might suck to get dragged to the movies to see some crappy piece of merchandizing by Disney (i.e. The Croods), occasionally, it just plain rocks when I get to see films like Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is a dog who is a lot like the US Armed forces. He accomplishes more before 6 am than most people do every day. By his side is the mischievous boy sidekick Sherman (Max Charles). The two use their WABAC machine (time machine) to go on crazy adventures though time. Then, Sherman hijacks the machine and accidentally rips a hole in the space/time continuum. It’s up to Mr. Peabody to fix Sherman’s mistake and keep some of the most important events in history from disappearing entirely.

You know when I really like a children’s movie? When it is truly educational and doesn’t fudge facts to fit a stupid plotline (like ‘Barnyards’ male cow lead or ‘Free Birds’ complete obliteration of the facts of the first Thanksgiving.) Mr. Peabody doesn’t fudge facts or pander. In fact, he give a socially conscious satire of many things that might fly over the heads of a children’s audience, but will still resonate with adult viewers.

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If you’re old like me, then you know that this movie is based on an old cartoon of the same name. I don’t know what it was, but when I was a kid, Mr. Peabody could be kind of…well, a snarky asshole to be honest. For some reason, Ty Burrell gives this character a cuddliness that he didn’t have before. His sarcasm and clever quips come across as more “everybody laugh with me’ than “I’m the smartest guy in the room’.

Rob Minkoff, who gave us Stewart Little and the Lion King, manages the direction of this film perfectly. There is never a slow moment and the movie rips through one fast paced bit after another, dropping a little knowledge along the way.

The animation is 3D computer animation, which gives Mr. Peabody and Sherman a new life from the old flat one dimensional cartoons. The movie is a pleasure to the eye, with characters that pop and scenes that captivate the imagination.

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I could have done with a bit less puns. To be 100% honest, this movie is not nearly as smart as the original cartoon, but that’s ok with me. I like to laugh along with cartoons, not feel like they’re laughing about how stupid I am.

If you’re a parent, then you can rest assured that seeing Mr. Peabody and Sherman won’t be a chore. It will be a rare treat. The right casting gave Mr. Peabody some softer edges, while staying true to the original educational nature of the show gave it credibility. Whether you are a baby boomer fan of the original, or looking for a movie to entertain you and your kids, Mr. Peabody and Sherman is worth the watch.

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