National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

(On DVD, February 2017) Lazy, repetitive and occasionally offensive, National Lampoon’s European Vacation is both the follow-up that the first Vacation deserved, and an irritating attempt to replicate the previous film without quite understanding why it worked. Gone is the classic road trip; hello to the stereotypes of ugly Americans offending a trail of European bystanders as they rampage across the continent. It almost goes without saying that the film immediately goes for national stereotypes: unflappable Brits, haughty Frenchmen, aggressive Germans … and clueless Americans. The episodic nature of the film is annoying, but never more so when the movie lands in its final Roman destination and then realizes it should have some kind of plot to wrap things up. Moments later, we have a jewelry heist and a kidnapping. It’s not particularly interesting, and so the film ends with a whimper even as it goes through the motions of a big car chase. In some ways, it’s natural that the producers would want to take the first film’s formula and make it better-bigger-louder by sending it to Europe. On the other hand, it sort of misses the point that the first film (and the third one) would take its strength from universal childhood experiences. Incidents during road trips or holiday gatherings are near-universal—angering Europeans far less so. The result is recognizably a comedy, but it’s a significant step down from the previous film.

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