It's no trick to figure out if you will like National Lampoon's European Vacation: it's quite a lot like National Lampoon's Vacation. It's a very similar package: stupid, vulgar people making fools of themselves on vacation, purposefully stupid and vulgar enough that the average filmgoer will feel himself superior to them, but the whole gauged so that most people won't notice that the filmmakers are laughing at them, too, painting them as slightly less exaggerated versions of the yahoos on the screen. This is an old satirist's trick, one that the National Lampoon is very fond of. It doesn't add much to the fun of the production, but it does wonders for the egos of the filmmakers. There's enough funny material to compensate, though, and, if you see through the filmmakers' trick, then you get to laugh at them for being so insecure that they have to build up their egos by condescending to people whose brains have been turned to Malto Meal by too many raunchy teen comedies.
There is a new element in European Vacation, or, more precisely, an element borrowed from somewhere besides the first film, and that is the old standby of the obnoxious American abroad. Mark Twain got a lot of mileage out of this one, and satirists on both sides of the Atlantic have gleefully joined in the trashing of American tourists ever since. European Vacation has nothing new to add, but it does go over old territory reasonably well.
The Griswold family, who succeeded in making their last vacation a misery, is at it again, having won a European trip on a wonderfully vulgar game show, "Pig in a Poke". Mom and Dad (Beverly D'Angelo and Chevy Chase, both returning from the first film), are enthusiastic, but their teenaged kids (Jason Lively and Dana Hill, replacing Anthony Michael Hall and someone else) don't want to go. Dad packs them all off, none the less, for a whirlwind tour through Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. Disaster waits at every turn, compounded by the Griswolds' ignorance, arrogance, and thoughtlessness. Oh, what fun. Chase and D'Angelo are both pretty good, and Lively is interesting enough, though not as good as Hall was. Dana Hill has a whiny, unpleasant part, in which she is whiny and unpleasant.
Like the first film, European Vacation features a number of cameos by semi-well-known actors, but this bunch isn't as close to famous as those in Vacation. Instead of John Candy and Eugene Levy and Christie Brinkley, we get John Astin and Paul Bartel and Moon Zappa. Astin is very funny as the gameshow host, the others have little to do. Eric Idle is underutilized as a bicyclist unfortunate enough to encounter the Griswolds. He should have encountered them once more than he does, though, and the film isn't brutal enough to make some of his bits really hilarious.
In some ways, European Vacation is a softer film than Vacation. European Vacation sets up a joke deliberately reminiscent of one of the grosser, and funnier, bits from Vacation, but it backs off it a little, making it less funny. While not as vicious as Vacation, European Vacation is an odd film to wind up with a PG13 rating, as it features copious raunchy language and an amount of nudity sufficient to usually guarantee an R rating. The easily offended are thus warned. Last summer's assurances that the PG13 rating would be used for hard PG films, not soft R films, seems to have been forgotten, which should make adolescents happy and parents upset.
Amy Heckerling, director of European Vacation, proved in Johnny Dangerously that she could handle vulgar language with as little sensitivity as any man, and here she further shows that she can exploit female nudity just as crassly as the garden variety male chauvinist director. However, her gags and timing are better in European Vacation than in her previous film. She has certainly shown as much talent for comedy as most of the other directors working on second rate teen films nowadays, but she hasn't shown anything special.
John Hughes again wrote the first draft for the script, but I don't think his heart is in it, any more. After making The Breakfast Club, how much enthusiasm could you muster for a project like this? His co-writer, Robert Klane, doesn't add any special enthusiasm, and neither of them have any particularly good ideas, so they run through a bunch of old standbys. They get rather less steam out of them than they might. The best they can do to get fun out of the inevitable language problems, for instance, is to have Chase mangle French and all foreigners say obscene things to Chase which he misinterprets. Too many other gags prove predictable, such as the outcome of the Griswolds' visit to Stonehenge, which is preordained from the moment they arrive. Someone should tell Heckerling, Hughes, and Co. that there is a difference between setting up a joke and telegraphing it.
Warner Brothers seems to have little confidence in European Vacation, as they sneaked it out into the theaters without substantial advertising. In the light of the success of Vacation, which didn't have that many more good laughs, the studio's lack of confidence is surprising. National Lampoon's European Vacation will probably satisfy fans of the early film, but has few attractions for anyone who didn't like Vacation.
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