6 years

Review: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

It might be the weakest in the National Lampoon series but European Vacation still has some quite funny moments.

A review of National Lampoon's European Vacation

Those Griswolds never catch a break. They can’t even get their own name right, given that in this film, they’re the Griswalds. With an A. That right there tells you all you need to know about the only slightly funny second installment of the Vacation series. For the most part, it’s pretty mediocre all round – a beat for beat retread of the original, with none of the surprise or wit.

That said, it doesn’t fail on every count. The deadpan of the original mostly remains, a smart twist on the original film’s “she’s deaf” line now being “she’s dead” and a few under-reactions being the long and short of it. In fact, the escalation of language between “she’s deaf” and “she’s dead” is representative of the escalation between Vacation and European Vacation – like the difference between Alien and Aliens, European Vacation tries its best to shove in more vacation.

The Griswolds go to London, Paris, and Rome, before ending back in the USA. Their presence in other countries is surprisingly self-effacing, and where this film works where other roadtrip movies might not is that the Griswolds are always the fools. They are the butt of the joke, be it their incompetence, idiocy, or general clumsiness. Sure, most people seem to be out to rob them, or kill them, but that’s only because the Griswolds themselves are placed in those circumstances by their own stupidity.

The locations are beautifully shot, and while it might have been nice to be able to stay in one place for a little bit longer, they definitely make full use of their surroundings. There’s car chases, kidnappings, numerous road accidents, and more rude serving staff than you can shake a stick at. One of the most fun parts of the film is spotting the British comic actors with minor roles – Eric Idle has a funny recurring part as an accident prone tourist, while the late great Mel Smith and Robbie Coltrane appear in very minor roles.

Talking of casting; it became a running joke with the Vacation movies that the children change actors and ages all the time, but surely this film’s Audrey is the worst of all of them – she plays the teenage girl like Roseanne Barr mixed with an old screaming lady. It’s a terrible performance, and director Amy Heckerling must have sensed this, as she is given barely any screentime alone.

It’s a disappointing sequel, but it looks great in Blu-ray, and manages to capitalise on some of the goodwill of the original.


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