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Our review of National Lampoon's European Vacation, published March 20th, 2002, is also available.
Viva la Griswolds!
The National Lampoon brand has become something of a joke the last few decades, churning out mostly terrible made-for-DVD films (National Lampoon's Dorm Daze, National Lampoon's Cattle Call). Believe it or not, there was a time in the 1980s where that National Lampoon name meant top quality comedy, never better than the National Lampoon's Vacation series. Though hit or miss—National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a perennial favorite while 1997's Vegas Vacation is considered a real turd)—there is no denying that the Griswold family has taken us on a lot of fun rides. The second installment of the series, National Lampoon's European Vacation, makes its debut on Blu-ray care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Everyone's favorite traveling family is back in the follow up to the successful National Lampoon's Vacation in National Lampoon's European Vacation! Chevy Chase returns as bumbling but lovable Clark W. "Sparky" Griswold, along with his doting wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo, American History X) and two children, Rusty (Jason Lively, Night of the Creeps) and Audrey (the late Dana Hill). After winning a TV contest for an all expense paid trip overseas, the Griswold family find themselves in a series of misadventures featuring Parliament, Big Ben and the number six. Get ready to laugh like a Frenchman with National Lampoon's European Vacation!
Oh Mr. Chase, what a storied and tumultuous career you've ridden. I am and probably always will be a Chevy Chase apologist. At the height of his game Chevy was, hands down, one of the funniest guys working in Hollywood. Of course, there are his quotable blockbusters everyone knows by heart including Fletch, Spies Like Us, Caddyshack. Then there are the movies I think are funny even if the rest of the world doesn't: Fletch Lives, the highly underappreciated Nothing But Trouble (it's Awesome with a capital 'A') and the highly entertaining Three Amigos!. At his peak Chevy could (in this reviewer's eyes) do no wrong. Even in films that seemed to just putter along, Chase always made the ride worthwhile.
Which is pretty much how I feel about National Lampoon's European Vacation. The first film in the series is considered by many to be comedy gold—written by the late John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) and directed by Harold Ramis (Ice Harvest), National Lampoon's Vacation is jam packed with a story everyone can relate to (crammed in a station wagon, vacationing across country with your family) and was mined for maximum laughs (two words: Aunt Edna). Alas, National Lampoon's European Vacation feels like a retread that, while containing some pretty funny and sporadic bits, never comes close to its predecessor.
It could be that the idea of a European vacation isn't as universally amusing to American audiences. The Griswold clan are plopped down in an English countryside but the laughs just don't come as fast and hard this time around. There are some amusing moments played out (Monty Python alum Eric Idle shows up as an overly accommodating accident victim) but the tone feels off during this particular Vacation. It could be that director Ramis' deft touch is missed; this time around Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) takes the reigns and the scenarios feel forced and sometimes too slap sticky (a sequence where Clark accidentally knocks down Stonehenge always seemed a bit too far fetched). John Hughes once again pens the screenplay, but it feel disjointed and oddly meandering for a Hughes script. Chase is consistent and funny as Clark Girswold and the rest of the stable of actors (including cameos by John Astin, Robbie Coltrane and everyone favorite '80s jerk, William Zabka) are fine but never overly memorable.
And yet, I feel I may be being too harsh on National Lampoon's European Vacation. No, it doesn't live up to the original's fresh zaniness. But the fact remains it's still a wholly watchable film with enough laughs to make up for its dead spots. Although a bit broader in its comedic leanings, the movie is still an amusing little relic from the 1980s which features one of my all-time favorite movie exchanges: "Dad, I think he's gonna pork her!" "He's not going to pork her, Russ." "I think he's gonna go for it!" "He may pork her Rus, now eat your breakfast." If that made you smile, maybe National Lampoon's European Vacation is for you after all.
National Lampoon's European Vacation is presented in 1.85:1 1080p widescreen. For those hoping for a huge upgrade from Warner's previous standard releases, this image will sorely disappoint. While there is an upgrade in picture quality, it's not so big as to warrant a repurchase. The image is just okay—not great, not horrible, just there. Colors and black levels are all fine, though there is little in the way of depth or a 'popping' of the image off the screen.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 in English, French and Spanish. The fact that this track is in '1.0' tells you just about all you need to know about this track—you can hear the dialogue and music and that's about as exciting as it gets. Also included are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra feature is an only mildly (at best) interesting commentary track by Chevy Chase, which is further proof that the best commentaries are done in groups, not as solo affairs.
If we're going by place markers, National Lampoon's European Vacation comes in third place of a four film series. It's not a bad movie, per say, just a somewhat lazy and innocuous one. Chevy Chase purists (myself included) will want to own this on hi-def just to see Clark driving in a circle exclaiming "Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!" For the rest of you, it's an easy rental recommendation.
There are better Vacations available.
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