(Second viewing, On DVD, October 2018) It’s easy to see why noted film buff/historian John Landis would jump at the occasion to direct Three Amigos—among many other things, it’s a chance for him to re-create a small part of Hollywood history, specifically the early days of silent comedy films. Add to that the idea of satirizing Seven Samurai, as well as working with comedians such as Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin … it certainly looks like a great project. Alas, the final version of Three Amigos is missing something. It’s not dull or bad, but it’s certainly duller and worse than it could and should have been. When I saw the movie as a teenager, my favourite sequence (and the only one I could remember thirty years later aside from the salute) was the one with the signing bush and the (fallen) Invisible Gunman. As a middle-aged man, it’s still my favourite sequence, and I think it shows just how wild and absurdly funny the rest of the film could have been—I liked the too-brief look at silent Hollywood, but I would have enjoyed Three Amigos far more if its tone had been consistent with the crazy singing bush/invisible man sequence. The rest often feels perfunctory and well-mannered despite a few good stunts and the potential to go beyond the obvious. Would it have been so hard to do just a bit more?
(On DVD, May 2017) As a quintessential golf comedy, Caddyshack’s reputation precedes it in many ways. A favourite filler on golf TV channels, it seems to enjoy a consecrated reputation as something of a lowbrow classic. Taking a good look at it, however, may reveal a film weaker than expected. The plot zigs and zags in mystifying fashion, largely uninterested in the action of its putative teenage leads but all too eager to showcase comic routines by Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. It makes for a clash of comic sensibilities, considering how their styles don’t necessarily belong in the same narrative. The most egregious instance of this is Dangerfield’s quasi-stand-up routine blasting the age and status of a country club members—the movie pretty much stops dead during that time. Another physical comedy bit involves nautical hijinks, while Chevy Chase has his own comic-seduction routine, and Bill Murray kind of dawdles into the movie with his own absurdist take (He’s got that going for him, which is nice) and a groundhog exists in a separate explosive movie. Very little of this actually fits together, making for a disconnected but occasionally very funny film. Caddyshack’s impact makes more sense once you find out the chaotic nature of its production and the various ways then-novice director Harold Raimis altered the film is post-production. The result is a mess, but an entertaining one—if only for seeing Chase, Dangerfield and Murray each playing up their comic persona, leaving the other aspects of the film far behind.
(On DVD, February 2017) As the fourth entry in an uneven series, Vegas Vacation is no more and no less than average. The chuckles are there as the Griswold family takes a trip to Las Vegas, but the film struggles to have anything akin to the memorable sequences of the previous films. While better than European Vacation, it doesn’t reach the comedy heights of Christmas Vacation, nor attains the archetypical Americana of the first film. Chevy Chase’s doofus-dad character is very familiar by now, and if Beverly d’Angelo only seems to become more attractive with age, her character doesn’t have much to do except flirt with Wayne Newton. Some sequences are terrible (such as the Hoover Dam segment) while others are mildly amusing (such as the boy being an incredibly lucky gambler). The ending, appropriately enough for a final movie in a series, triumphantly sends off the Griswold family in the sunset with a drive home that could have been a movie in its own right. By far the most average and featureless film in the series, Vegas Vacation is worth a look if it’s in the same DVD case as the other movies of the series—otherwise, well, there are funnier film out there.
(Second viewing, On DVD, February 2017) Movies become semi-classics for a reason, and the appeal of National Lampoon’s Vacation can be found in nearly-universal nostalgic reminiscences of childhood road trips to visit some far-off destination. That’s the vein that John Hughes picked up in giving life to the episodic Vacation, featuring Chevy Chase as a bumbling dad trying to ensure happy holidays for his family. Nearly thirty-five years later, there’s a pleasant eighties patina over the film, but many of the gags remain just as funny today. (There are exceptions, of course—some scenes, such as the saloon fake-shootout, remain more mystifying than anything else.) It’s a great piece of Americana, a rather good showcase for Chevy Chase’ comic persona, and it remains a fairly solid touch-point for references even today. Plus you’ll get to hum “Holiday Road” for days. It’s not my favourite of the series (that honour goes to Christmas Vacation), but it’s solid enough to show why it remains popular even today.
(In French, Fourth or fifth viewing, December 2016) Surprisingly enough, I can’t find a review of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in my files even though I must have watched it a handful of times before. Heck, the film has even become a Christmas tradition in my household. What’s not to love about it? It’s an itemized look at the excesses of Christmas for the middle-class, deftly zigzagging between cynical laughs and exasperated sentiment. It’s a collection of memorable sequences, each of them madcap and taken to the limits. (My hands-down favourite: the “Squirrel!” sequence) It’s a showcase for Chevy Chase, who reprises his role as the Griswold patriarch, but gives him added depth by staying home. For men, it’s an excuse to look at the combined charms of Nicolette Sheridan, Beverly D’Angelo’s green outfit and eighties-chic Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It remains very funny even today, and I suspect that its timeless charm only makes it feel even more relevant nowadays. Worth seeing again; worth seeing every year.
(Video on Demand, January 2016) Are Hollywood studios so desperate that we’re now down to comedy franchise reboots? Oh, you can make a good case for the Chevy-Chase “Vacation” quartet as some sort of classic (especially the Christmas one), but rehashing vacation-themed films through the son’s character in the original series seems more crassly desperate than most other attempts to exploit moviegoers. The result isn’t fit to make anyone think more highly of the process: It’s not that Vacation is terrible, but that it’s scattered everywhere, without much control over its own tone or jokes as it seemingly leaps off in all directions (sometimes literally straddling four states at once). There’s heartwarming family reconciliation, some gross-out material, several quick appearances by known comedians, undercooked subplots and an overall lack of cohesion. Ed Helms is pretty good as the stereotypically harried husband/father and some of the cameos are fine (this does not include Chevy Chase, who looks as if he should have retired a long time ago) and yet Vacation is as ordinary as it comes. It’s funny enough, but it could have been better given slightly more effort.