by Ken B.
It becomes quite clear that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is at its funniest when it is at its most immature and most sell-outish, par for the course. It’s funny because it’s stupid, and thankfully, this one is very stupid.
When released in December of 1989, this was the third in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, and this is the first reviewed here. Clark Griswold (the enduring CHEVY CHASE) is set on making this Christmas perfect. This involves some rather high risk scenarios, much to the mixed receptions of his wife Ellen (BEVERLY D’ANGELO), and children Russ (a young JOHNNY GALECKI) and Audrey (JULIETTE LEWIS). What else isn’t so great is the house being overstuffed with relatives, ranging from the in-laws to a senile aunt and uncle to Ellen’s unemployed, hillbilly RV-driving cousin Eddie (RANDY QUAID) with his rather… interesting family.
Loaded with both visual and verbal gags from start to finish with a personal 65 – 75% success rate, I couldn’t really believe how much I enjoyed this movie, with it being all dumb and stuff (that, in it of itself, may be the most idiotic statement I have ever made in a movie review). The expected juvenile humor works brilliantly somehow, and I’ll never really know why.
Somehow, for 89 minutes, this movie keeps delivering the same level of material. It never especially dries out, and somehow 25,000 Christmas lights flashing on and off in a gag lasting 3 – 5 straight minutes never becomes entirely dull, just slightly bothersome in its length.
Since we’re talking about light slapstick comedy here, I’m not going off on a gigantic essay about the cinematographer’s career, but I will say this. More than once in Christmas Vacation, it almost looks like it’s about to crash and burn. It feels like it’s been used up, and it looks like we’re bouncing into substandard joke misses for a second, before handing us a delightful surprise. Technically, it should have never been close to oblivion to begin with, but the fact that the 22,000 foot fall never occurs saves it from morbid impressions.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is sort of like the runt of Christmas tradition now, when you think of Chevy Chase or National Lampoon or John Hughes it doesn’t blend in your head as the word “Christmas!”, but it works – some how, some way, it works. It’s blessed regally by its own stupidity, and it rubs off on the viewing audience. Director Jeremiah S. Chechik, who apparently never directed a movie before this, tries his best, but ultimately the writing (screenplay from Hughes) and the cast (read: Chevy Chase making it work most of the time) save this from what could have been a nightmarish failure.
P.S: Only a movie that had spent the previous hour and a half doing what it did could justify a joke where a Christmas film ends with a rousing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.