Friday, December 24, 2010

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

It might surprise my younger readers to learn that, back before he became a slightly uncomfortable joke (and way before he started redeeming himself with Community), Chevy Chase was considered one of the best comedic talents of the 1980s. While he had a nice string of hit films for the decade, like Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Fletch, I personally feel that this, his final success (you know, unless Not Another Not Another Movie turns out to be big) was his real peak as a comedian. And it certainly doesn’t hurt my purposes that it’s a nice Christmas movie for me to have watched immediately after waking up.

There’s not honestly a huge plot to go into here, as it’s basically just the general template that all “spending the holidays with family is Hell” type movies follow. The Griswolds (formerly seen in National Lampoon’s Vacation and National Lampoon’s European Vacation, though tragically not seen since Vegas Vacation was investigated as a possible war crime) are preparing for Christmas, and Clark (Chase) has decided that all the relatives should fly out to his house this year. That’s essentially the whole story, though the movie is filled to bursting with so many gags and wonderfully mean-spirited jokes (and some really cheesy ones as well, which isn‘t necessarily a bad thing when the movie‘s earned them) that it’s just a delight from start to finish.

Honestly, if you’re my age or older, you should already have seen this multiple times by now, so I’m not sure I should give a proper review. Instead, here are some general fond remembrances to help put you all in a good mood for the holiday:

Long before Randy Quaid had turned into a tragic example of encroaching madness, he managed to make his career with this film by portraying the single most blatantly awful relative in film history. He just shows up with his family, uninvited, in an RV that he parks in Clark’s driveway, before doing delightful things like letting his completely wild Doberman run loose in the house, draining the septic tank in the RV into the sewer system, and just in general being the exact kind of horrid redneck that you’d normally want kept as far from your family and home as possible. That he turns into a crazy person at the end of the film to redeem himself does not change this.

Chase’s freakout over not getting a Christmas bonus may not be the greatest freakout in film history (I think Danny DeVito may have permanently taken that award after Anything Else), but it certainly ranks up there, and really, getting all your employees a one year subscription to the Jell-O of the Month Club is exactly the sort of thing that should make them kidnap you and hold a gun to your head, dick. Though speaking in my official capacity as a 21st century worker, I suppose he should be happy he got that much, given that my Christmas bonus on more than one occasion has been to be laid off.

While I’ve never cared for Juliette Lewis, I’ve always admired her fascinating ability to sneak into so many movies that I love, from this to Cape Fear to Strange Days to Kalifornia to Old School to the no-doubt-amazing Hangover 2. She has some weird voodoo going for her and I for one do not intend to cross her.

Out of all the many great gags in the film, probably my favorite that doesn’t involve sexy women stripping is when Clark decides that he’s going to go sledding by way of a metal garbage can lid type thing, which he sprays up so much to keep it slippery that the instant he starts to move all we see is a trail of fire leading into the distance to mark where he went. Another great bit is when the delightful William Hickey (and his awful toupee) accidentally torches the Christmas tree not long after his cat is vaporized from chewing on wires. What a joyously mean-spirited affair this film is.

I don’t know how else to hype the movie up for you. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably seen it at least once a year since it came out in 1989, and if you’re not like me then this is the perfect opportunity to start becoming more like me. Particularly now, when it‘s on sale for three bucks. Hope to it, and have a Merry Christmas.

Rating: ****

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