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NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION

year: 1989 rating: ***
The third VACATION and the second written by story creator John Hughes, CHRISTMAS is more of a reboot than a sequel, starting everything from scratch for a new generation: as if there were no other trips beforehand...

Daughter Audrey is more bitter and frustrated than ever, and somehow Rusty, now with brown hair instead of blonde, is thirteen-years-old again...

The kids and mom don’t amount to much anyway, merely witnessing Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase at the tail-end of his comedic peak) and his clumsy misadventures as the host of an overcrowded holiday home: including both sets of in-laws. The only real input for family’s sake is Randy Quaid’s white trash Cousin Eddie: A scene-stealer in the first film given his own fifteen minute layover, Eddie becomes Clark’s partner-in-crime. But Quaid seems to be doing an exaggerated imitation, turning Eddie into an over-the-top comic book character. Meanwhile, Clark's reactionary disdain for his cousin-in-law's gross-out personality becomes redundant, especially after the first ten times.

Chevy Chase & Randy Quaid
Most of the film's spoken jokes are limp and somewhat forced. The funniest moments rely on physical gags: the fate of a curious cat; an enraged squirrel; and Christmas house lights that refuse to work.

The direction, including handheld camera and intentionally awkward moments, flows pretty well with the John Hughes script that, as usual, mixes semi dark comedy with pathos and hijinx. While the soundtrack can be spooky and ominous, befitting what’s going on in Clark’s troubled mind, successfully contrasting with the old fashion Norman Rockwell house and backdrop.

Touted as a Holiday classic, this is really a hit-and-miss outing. The most family oriented Lampoon venture keeps some of the blue humor hidden yet it’s implied throughout.

Glimpses of a brooding Clark at work in the office, hoping for a bonus check to buy a swimming pool, and the intrusion of a put-upon yuppie couple who live next door – victims of whatever Clark’s doing outside – are distractions to get us out of the crowded house. Yet with these sporadic reminders of real life, we often forget we’re on vacation.
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