Note: This is the final review in my five-part series on the Vacation movies. Click on the links below to read my previous reviews from this franchise:
There are three factors that might compel you to watch Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure:
1) Love for the original. "Hey, Christmas Vacation was hilarious! I watch it every year! And now my beloved characters are going on a new holiday-themed outing? Radical! Sign me up for some island fun and adventure!"
2) A desire to complete the series. "Well heck, Vegas Vacation was pretty lame, and my heart tells me this might be even worse, but I've got to see it, right? I've seen all the others!"
3) It is on TV, and you are trapped under something heavy. The remote is nowhere to be found, and your face is pinned to the floor in a manner that makes looking away from the television an impossibility.
Hopefully, after I share my thoughts with you, #3 will be the only reason you might watch this "film" in its entirety. Some of you might not even be aware that this "movie" existed (it aired on NBC in 2003 before being given a DVD release), so I guess what I'm doing here is a public service announcement more than a review.
Allow me to share the opening exchange of the "movie," a labyrinthine conversation that I had to rewind four times before I even understood what was being said. I'll set the scene. Clark "Third" Johnson (played by Jake Thomas), son to Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his wife Catherine (Miriam Flynn), is talking to a girl on the way home from school.
CLARK: I was named after my mom's cousin's husband -- Clark Griswold the 2nd. I'm the third Clark Griswold. Clark Griswold Johnson.
GIRL: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
CLARK: Yes, they're with my grandma in Kansas. Except for my oldest sister, she's working at a strip club in Las Vegas
GIRL: A strip club? Where do you live?
CLARK: My mom and dad and I are staying with my cousin Audrey Griswold. She's visiting her boyfriend in Indianapolis. So we're kind of house sitting for her. You know, over the holidays.
These are the first words spoken in the "movie!" As an aspiring screenwriter, if I ever put that exchange to paper I would shoot myself in the throat. What a needlessly complicated, bizarre bit of exposition! And that's how you hook the audience? That's your big opening scene? It would have been better to just have the kid look into the camera and explain, in monologue form, who he is related to and what the hell is going on.
Matty Simmons, producer on all of the Vacation films, "wrote" this one, despite having no real previous screenwriting credits. Hey Matty? I'd like to be a professional golfer, but I suck at golf. Therefore, I don't play golf on a professional level. Makes sense, right? If I were given two hours in the back seat of a bumpy truck, a note pad, and a stick with poo on it, I could write a better script than this. I'm not kidding. Give it up. You're a successful man in other fields, you've got loads of money. Don't write anymore scripts. Stop.
The "film" was "directed" by Nick Marck, a television director who has helmed episodes of some really great shows -- The Wonder Years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars. Mr. Marck, I'm willing to believe this wasn't your fault. I'd take it off the old resume, though.
So Eddie and Catherine are house-sitting for Audrey. Fine. Whatever. As the film opens, a wasted Fred Willard is firing Eddie from his job, which seems to consist of playing tic-tac-toe with a monkey. There are several "jokes" about how Eddie is dumber than said monkey. Eddie returns home, decides to take a bath. Plumbing hijinks ensue. Their dog farts a lot (No, a lot). And they smell bad, see? The farts that the dog has, I mean. Laughing yet?
Through complications involving a monkey attack and fear of a lawsuit, Eddie is awarded a trip to the South Pacific by his ex-boss. Ed Asner (a loooooong way from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) inexplicably pops up as Uncle Nick, and he joins them on their vacation. They run into Eric Idle, whom I believe is supposed to be playing the same role he played in European Vacation -- British guy who gets beat up by accident a lot. Wasn't funny then, is far less funny now. The gang gets stranded on an island, some atrocious green-screen technology is used, Eddie flies a plane, they get off the island. Fin.
Quaid tries his best here, but the guy had funnier material in Pluto Nash. Cousin Eddie was in maybe five minutes of Vacation total, and didn't enter Christmas Vacation until halfway through. He's a funny character to be sure, but only when he has someone reacting to or commenting on his antics. No one fills that role here. Eddie can't sustain a feature film on his own -- let alone one as stupefyingly awful as this. Flynn isn't given much to do as usual. Thomas is cute, and I thank him for giving me something to do while waiting for the "movie" to end -- figure out where I had seen him before (turns out he was the non-Haley Joel Osment kid in Spielberg's A.I).
Dana Barron, who played Audrey in the original Vacation 20 years prior, returns here for absolutely no reason. My guess is that offers went out to everyone who has ever played a Griswold, and Barron was the only one who agreed. She is the only Griswold kid ever to reprise his or her role. So...put that in your history books.
Sung Hi Lee plays Muka Laka Miki (and I don't want to spoil anything, but that name gets hilariously mispronounced several times!), but she might as well just be referred to as "Token Hot Chick." I can imagine some stressed out producer throwing his hands in the air, and bellowing "At least get some T&A in this thing or no one's going to watch to the end!" I'd like to thank that producer I just made up, because that extremely mild, PG-rated T&A is really all that kept me going.
In fairness, not everyone hates Christmas Vacation 2. After all, it was nominated for Best Hair Styling in a Television Mini-Series/Movie of the Week at the Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards. So someone was a fan. But please. Don't watch it. There isn't a laugh or a smile or a smirk or a grimace in the thing. It isn't so bad that it's good. It isn't even so bad that it's bad. To call it bad would be an insult to things that are bad. It hurt my feelings. They say depression rates go up at Christmastime -- I think I've found the reason.
Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure made me long for the subtle nuance, in-depth character development, and rib-tickling tropical comedy of Saved By the Bell: Hawaiian Style.