Vegas Vacation (1997) – A Review

Chevy Chase Clark Griswold Vegas Vacation 1997 comedy movie
Vegas Vacation

The Griswold’s are due for another vacation! This time hapless husband and father Clark (Chevy Chase) convinces wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and kids Rusty and Audrey (Ethan Embry and Marisol Nichols) to pack their bags for a fun time in Las Vegas!

Taking in some shows, hitting the casinos and going on a tour of the Hoover Dam is just the start of some of the zany adventures that are awaiting the Griswold’s in Sin City.

Soon Clark is losing all the family’s money at the tables, Rusty is winning it all back, Audrey starts a career as a Vegas dancer and Ellen is making time with Wayne Newton. And to top it all off Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) shows up to offer his unique low-brow humor to the proceedings.

I have no idea why I watched this movie. Ok, actually I do. Occasionally I’ll record some movie I don’t really have any interest in and have it ready to be background on my tv while I do something else. I just think of them as filler movies.

They’re just something to fill the room with some sound and it will be something I’ll occasionally look up at and not have to worry about getting invested in with whatever is going on. So while I’m doing some exercise, cleaning or sorting my socks the movie is playing, I’ll glance up at it and let out a ‘ooof’ and go back to whatever I was doing.

Vegas Vacation Clark Griswold Ellen Rusty Audrey 1997 comedy

Unexpectedly Vegas Vacation managed to get my undivided attention as it was a sleepless night and I figured let’s just get this movie over with since I’m just laying here.

What the heck, everyone is talking about that new Vacation movie coming soon, so let’s see the Griswold’s last vacation adventure. I went through eighteen years of never watching this movie and now I realize I didn’t miss a thing and I was better off. I should have just put it on while I was vacuuming.

This was one sequel too many and they should have just stopped at Christmas Vacation. This movie is simply not funny, which is about the worst thing a comedy can be.

I hate attempting to explain why I find something funny or not. It’s a very personal thing. What I might laugh at others might stare at stonefaced. There’s really no science to it and it’s all subjective from one person to another. But I didn’t laugh much at this Vacation movie.

Chevy Chase Randy Quaid Vegas Vacation Clark Griswold Cousin Eddie

Exaggeration is important in comedy. Clark Griswold has always been a clumsy buffoon, but there was also something believable and realistic about him for you to identify with. Originally he was a guy who tried to maintain an optimistic attitude with taking his family on a vacation, even when everything started to go wrong and it began to pile up to be one disaster after another.

He was clutzy and dimwitted and he knew things were going south, but he continued trying to put on his best face and feebly create the greatest family vacation ever. The family truckster crashes in the middle of the desert – no problem honey I’ll just take a quick jog to the nearest gas station!

In Vegas Vacation Clark Griswold just becomes a complete ridiculous idiot in certain scenes. He’s more cartoonish than ever, it’s impossible to relate to him and any kind of grounded reality that we might remember from the first film is completely gone.

You especially see this in the Hoover Dam scene which is just so forced and awkward. Clark gets separated from the tour and finds himself swinging and climbing all around the dam to get back to his family. Inspector Clouseau isn’t as incompetent as Clark Griswold here.

It’s really stupid and there’s not a laugh to be found. The funniest part of the whole Hoover Dam scene is the tour guide using the word ‘dam’ all the time. That’s a little cute gag.

Vegas Vacation 1997 Audrey dancing Marisol Nichols

The family becomes separated and each goes about on their own “hilarious adventures” in Vegas. Audrey dancing and Ellen getting romanced by Wayne Newton – both feel like filler.

It’s like they didn’t know what to do with the characters so they gave them these half-ass storylines and they just sit there with no laughs coming at us. It’s like they think we’ll be laughing just because they got Wayne Newton to show up in this. No. You have to do something funny with the guy. Rusty becoming a high-roller works a bit better, but Embry is not a very good Rusty and I found him annoying and very awkward.

Quaid shows up and is his usual gross/lowbrow/white trash character. I always thought Cousin Eddie works so much better in tiny spurts. I suppose he’s fine here. He does what fans of the character want. I thought the only funny stuff with him was when he takes Clark to this oddball casino where you can gamble on games like rock/paper/scissors and guessing heads or tails on a coin toss. Another cute little gag. The only other high point throughout this Vegas trip is Wallace Shawn as an arrogant blackjack dealer who continually beats Chase.

Some people like how that new Vacation trailer was going for some ‘meta humor’. Ed Helms telling his kids “This vacation will stand on it’s own” when they tell him they never saw the original vacation. Yeah, what a knee slapper.

Here, I was surprised that the movie had its own self-referential jokes. And I have to say I thought the two ‘meta jokes’ here were funnier than that Helms one.

We have Chase dropping the line to the kids, “I don’t even recognize you two anymore” a clear poke at how the Griswold kids get recast in every movie. By the way that’s another positive thing – this Audrey is the cutest out of all the ‘Audrey Griswolds’ in the movies.

Christie Brinkley Ferrari girl Vegas Vacation 1997 cameo

But the funnier joke – actually it might be the best joke in the entire movie – is the Christie Brinkley cameo and her showing up as the girl in the red Ferrari once again.

First it’s a nice throwback to the original and the final visual punchline to it is much more clever and funnier than the gag the new Vacation trailer contains with the girls car getting hit by a truck. But I guess comedies nowadays have to be bigger, louder and more destructive. Or maybe those are the only kind of jokes filmmakers today can come up with.

It looks like the budget for this was much less than the previous entries. If someone had told me this was a made-for-TV movie I would have believed it. It has that flat TV-movie look and is very inoffensive. Some of the jokes and sight gags are poorly directed and setup. It’s like when the payoff shot finally comes around you were already bored waiting for it to happen.

One of the strangest scenes is one that revolves around the Griswold’s attending a Siegfried and Roy show. I have no idea what was supposed to be funny about it. I just ends and nothing really happens. Or maybe we were just supposed to laugh because Siegfried and Roy show up in this movie.

Vegas was not a great Griswold vacation.

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3 Responses

  1. CKulik says:

    Hey Hap: you do know I composed my own review of VEGAS VACATION and posted it only 3 weeks ago, right? ( And it seems we have a slight difference of opinion here. Nevertheless, you make some valid points that I don't such as the lack of "grounded reality" from the first film was a debit, although I personally missed the harsh, politically incorrect humor from the original even though the screenwriter clearly studied the original because of its many returning characters. Plus, after reading your review twice, I'm stunned you didn't bother to mention Wayne Newton's role in another, much more popular and culturally significant franchise. It's really bizarre that VEGAS VACATION suffers from being the most family-friendly, the most colorful and the most unlikely of Griswold excursions from a series perspective; bottom line is that I actually think it's pleasant and enjoyable but you're right, it's really not that funny. Except for Cousin Eddie, though!

    I'm going to be patient and see what the critical reaction to the new _Vacation_ is before I even think about seeing it in the theater. Truth is, I just don't think it will do that well and it will largely depend on how huge the nostalgia is for the original series which may in fact just not be there. Hell, it might be so bad it makes VEGAS VACATION look good! 🙂

    • You had a nice written review of this. I don't really think we're too far off with our thoughts with the movie just our reactions to it. It's harmless enough. I haven't seen European Vacation in ages, but from what I remember of it Vegas is better than that one. It's just I sat there and the laughs didn't come and that made it a struggle to get through.

  2. CKulik says:

    Bless your heart! Watch VEGAS again in 18 years, perhaps. Well, we shall see if VACATION 2015 stands on its own or if its going to drown in a hot spring of sh*t. I just don't know if I'm down on seeing Thor's Mighty Hammer this time around. 🙂

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