Judge Lacey Worrell discovers that worse things can happen on a vacation than Hurricane Ivan.
The wildest road trip of the year!
Johnson Family Vacation is solid proof that it is indeed possible to sit through an entire comedy and not laugh once.
Facts of the Case
Picture this. A dad takes his impressionable teenage son along to buy a new car for the family road trip that will also include dad's knockout wife and teenage daughter. Along the way the car gets trashed, the family encounters all sorts of strange people, and at a hotel one night, dad ends up checking out some beautiful women despite the fact that his equally beautiful wife is waiting for him. No, my friends, it's not the classic National Lampoon's Vacation, it's Johnson Family Vacation.
This movie is terrible from start to finish. Although Cedric the Entertainer proved his mettle long ago in Barbershop, Johnson Family Vacation gives this talented man nothing more to do than act goofy. When that fails to extract laughs from the audience, some potty humor and insulting Native American jokes are thrown in. Watching this film reminded me of the emotions I felt during family car trips when I was a kid; boredom, disdain, and frustration at the realization that the conclusion is a long, long way away.
Despite the awful script and production values, there is a surprising number of recognizable faces here. Lil' Bow Wow (Like Mike), a sometime rapper who is related to rapper Snoop Dogg (hence the name "Bow Wow"), has quite a following among teenage girls. Vanessa Williams (Soul Food) plays straight woman to Cedric's bumbling character, and look for Jason Momoa (North Shore, Baywatch Hawaii) in a small part. Shannon Elizabeth, from the American Pie films, appears as a voodoo priestess, and Solange Knowles, Beyonce's younger sister, plays Cedric's daughter. Steve Harvey's presence is a grim reminder of how poor a contrast this movie is to the stellar work he and Cedric did in The Original Kings of Comedy.
When you consider that Bernie Mac just about stole the film Ocean's Eleven right out from under George Clooney and Brad Pitt in a small but meaty role, Cedric the Entertainer—or any talented comedian looking for respect on the big screen—would be well advised to stay small until the right role comes along. Taking a part in a film just because it is the lead (are you listening, Chris Rock and David Spade?) is not always as successful a decision as staying small and working one's way up in memorable characters. One only needs to watch the amazingly risky but funny scene in Barbershop where Cedric's character chastises everyone from Rosa Parks to O.J. to see the value of a few standout scenes over one gigantic mess of a movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Johnson Family Vacation, to its credit, stays away from the use of graphic language to get its point across. What that point is exactly, I'm not sure, but it was refreshing to sit through a comedy not peppered with four-letter words. The best exchanges take place between Cedric's character and Bow Wow's, including a semi-amusing moment when Cedric refuses to play CDs by rappers who have been shot, such as Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Cedric has no comeback when his son points out that classic entertainers like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye were also shot. It is also nice to see the always welcome choice between widescreen and fullscreen presentation offered on the same disc.
In the making-of featurette, director Chris Erskin describes this movie as "a love letter back to America about the Great American Road Trip." Sorry, but I'm marking this letter "return to sender."
Consider yourself warned. Stay away.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Chris Erskin, Producer Eric Rhone, and actors Cedric the Entertainer and Lil' Bow Wow
Review content copyright © 2004 Lacey Worrell; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.