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Christmas Vacation
1989 - PG-13 - 97 Mins.
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Producer: John Hughes
Written By: John Hughes
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Brian Doyle Murray, Doris Roberts
Review by: John Ulmer
   
In this third installment of the widely successful and popular "Vacation" franchise, Chevy Chase returns to his role of Clark Griswold, along with Beverly D'Angelo as his wife Ellen. Also along for the ride is Randy Quaid, reprising his role as Uncle Eddie from the first film.

"Christmas Vacation" doesn’t really take the same formula as the first "Vacation" film, but it certainly is as funny. What I mean when I say, "The formula isn’t the same", is that the original film was about a family taking a road trip across America; the humor was restricted to jokes regarding road travel. The second film did the same, but became tiresome after a while.

Now, "Christmas" works the territory of Christmas comedy: the family coming, the frustrations and aggravations of the holidays, etc.. But the film also manages to capture some of the pure joy of Christmas at the same time, as the first film did with traveling.

Perhaps the success can be attributed to the fact that John Hughes, writer of "Vacation" wrote this film; I feel he did so because he wanted to get the series back on track after the first sequel. To paraphrase an interview James Cameron once gave about "Terminator 2": "I knew the sequel would be made; I wanted to carry it on in the right direction and not let it stray from the path…". I feel that is what John Hughes did with this film. I think he might have thought this would be the last sequel, and he wanted to end it with a bang. Of course, almost a decade later in 1997, audiences were introduced to "Vegas Vacation", which is in my opinion, an underrated comedy, but I’ll get into that in my next "Vacation" review. Suffice it to say, that this film certainly set the series back on track.

Clark Griswold has finally settled in for a peaceful Christmas with his family, including children Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki). The family is coming, including Clark Wilhelm Griswold, Sr. (John Randolph), Nora Griswold (Diane Ladd), Art (E.G. Marshall), and Doris Roberts as loudmouth Frances.

Only this year, Clark has made sure that EVERYTHING will go as planned. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for us (very much so!), Clark’s planning will be to no avail, as everything, much the same as in the previous films, will go to pieces and this Christmas will be just as crazy as all the Christmases before.

Chevy Chase rediscovered his slapstick roots in the "Vacation" films; I really do not enjoy him as a regular actor/comedian, but he is perfect as Clark Griswold. He is extremely gung-ho, and has all these crazy notions and the idea of an absolute perfect vacation built up in his head, and it is hilarious to see them explode as he inevitably loses his cool.

Beverly D’Angelo is, as I said in my review on the first film, surprisingly convincing as a housewife. I would never expect for her to work as an average mother, but behold, she does.

The kids in this new movie are good. They may not be as great as Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron were, but their attitudes fit the characters for THIS script much better: Audrey has a bigger attitude and Rusty is younger and more innocent.

And in this movie, the filmmakers return to what helped make the first movie so good: Cousin Eddie! I think his lack of presence in the second film really hurt it, but this film brings him back in a hilarious introduction sequence outside the house (“Eddie?!).

All in all, the film has some excellent gags and parodies the Christmas season many of us know all too well. While I don’t think it is quite as good as the first "Vacation" movie, it is almost as good. The reason it's hard to evaluate in comparison is because it is so different from the original; the formula as I said before is entirely different.

In fact, director Jeremiah S. Chechik provides the film an entirely different overtone. The first film had an orange tint to it, in a way, because it took place in summer and the Griswold family drove through some very dry areas. In this movie, it is Christmas, and the cinematography is…bleaker? Weighed down? Darker? Not in a bad way, as it suits the film. But all these little differences make it difficult to compare the two films because they are so different.

Overall, "Christmas Vacation" establishes itself as one of the best Christmas comedies to emerge from Tinseltown in the last twenty years, along with "Home Alone." It parodies the holiday season so well, that it has become for me, a Christmas tradition. I watch it at LEAST once a year around Christmas, but usually five, six, or maybe seven times a year.

Also, I think it's important to note to parents that this "Vacation" flick is much more watered down than the others - sure, it still is worthy of its PG-13 rating, but it's not as raunchy as the first or even the second. It makes for a welcome respite from the more serious Holiday films and still manages to leave you with a smile.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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