Picks and Pans Review: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

updated 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid

Since Chase's one basic comedy move—falling down—grew terminally tiresome around 1983, it's fortunate that Quaid is on hand to give this movie a bit of a power-up. He is funny without being a caricature as Chase's country cousin-in-law who has been out of work for seven years, running a live-bait shop, because he's waiting for an executive position to open up.

Your tolerance for the rest of the film, however, depends on how much humor you find in dog drool, burping, intestinal gas, breast jokes (the mere mention of "hooters" and "nipples" is presumed, it would seem, to lead to guffaws), explosions, obscene gestures, obscene comments, broken windows, tantrums, car crashes, fires and threats.

Even the threats are on the lame/halt side: "He's an old man. This may be his last Christmas." "If he keeps it up, it will be his last Christmas." But then so are the other jokes: "He worked really hard on that, Grandma." "So does a washing machine."

This is the third Vacation film, and Chase's wife is again played (dishearteningly, for anyone who respects her talent) by Beverly D'Angelo. The premise is that Chase has invited his parents and in-laws to his home for an idyllic Christmas celebration. Chase takes about 300 pratfalls and utilizes his famous blank stare at frequent intervals; he also harasses his oh-so-chic next-door neighbors. They are the movie's last hope, but, as played by the strikingly colorless Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, they are nonexistent as comic foils. (Maybe the producers couldn't pony up for, say, Rick Moranis and Andrea Martin, or even Sam Kinison and Judy Tenuta. But surely someone with a bit of flash could have been dredged up.)

While the supporting cast includes E. Marshall, William Hickey and Diane Ladd as members of the family, they are allowed only to mill around and mutter for the most part.

Every comic turn is predictable—from the electrocuted cat to the Scrooge-ified ending. And how desperate for acceptance are writer John Hughes, he of the obsession with teen movies, and first-time director Jeremiah Chechik? They not only put in an out-of-context clip from It's a Wonderful Life, but they also hired the grandson of that beloved film's director, Frank Capra III, as a "second assistant director," perhaps hoping some of the Capra-James Stewart-Donna Reed charm would rub off on this project.

It would be more likely, gentlemen, that a turkey would pass through the eye of a needle. (PG-13, though deserving of an R for gratuitously vile language)

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