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At work, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has invented a long life food preservative, earning him a large bonus check. Clark announces to his family that he is taking them on vacation. Enthusiasm wanes, however, when Clark says they are headed to Las Vegas, Nevada. His wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), and teenage daughter, Audrey (Marisol Nichols) have their doubts, as Las Vegas is not known for its family-friendly atmosphere, while teenage son Rusty (Ethan Embry) appears to be more eager. Will everything go smoothly? Don't bet the house.
For more about Vegas Vacation and the Vegas Vacation Blu-ray release, see Vegas Vacation Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on May 20, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Ethan Embry, Marisol Nichols, Miriam Flynn
Director: Stephen Kessler
» See full cast & crew
Vegas Vacation Blu-ray Review
Some Things Should Stay in Vegas and Be Buried in the Desert
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, May 20, 2013
In 1997, four years before he gathered the bevy of stars in Las Vegas that became the new Ocean's Eleven, super-producer Jerry Weintraub oversaw a much less impressive production in the Entertainment Capital of the World, when he acquired the rights to the National Lampoon's Vacation franchise for the fourth entry in the series. It had been eight years since the perennial holiday favorite Christmas Vacation —regarded by many as the best in the series—and star Chevy Chase had been on a downward slide throughout the Nineties, which accelerated to warp speed after his disastrous talk show on Fox, which was canceled after only five weeks. Still, Weintraub must have figured there was life in the old series yet. Unfortunately for viewers, Weintraub was unable to interest creator John Hughes in writing another Vacation script, and Hughes's absence is keenly felt in Vegas Vacation, which is the only entry in the series that doesn't bear the "National Lampoon" monicker. (Not that "NatLamp" is a guarantee of quality; I'm still recovering from The Legend of Awesomest Maximus.) Having created the characters, Hughes knew the exact pitch and tone for each one, and he understood the specific mix of slapstick and sentiment that a Vacation film requires. Hughes was also a solid craftsman when it came to structuring plots intelligently, so that antic behavior occurred within a narrative framework that felt like it was building to something—and then paid off. Hughes's replacement on script duties was Elisa Bell, who had written a few TV movies and has produced nothing of note since Vegas Vacation. (She received a story assist from film editor Bob Ducsay, who apparently found the experience so unrewarding that he has no other writing credits.) Returning in their former roles were Chevy Chase, who was no doubt grateful for the work, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn. Directing duties fell to Stephen Kessler, who has directed few films before or since. The result was a listless mess that is only occasionally enlivened by a star cameo suggesting how much better a movie Vegas Vacation could have been.
The adventure begins when hapless Clark Griswold (Chase) decides to use his bonus to take the family on yet another trip, this time to Las Vegas despite the glum response the notion elicits from wife Ellen (D'Angelo), son Rusty (Ethan Embry) and daughter Audrey (Marisol Nichols). "You guys are growing up so fast, I hardly recognize you anymore!" Clark protests to his kids, who have been played by different actors in every Vacation film. Since it's a staple of the Vacation franchise that everyone indulges Clark's terrible ideas, pretty soon the Griswolds are checking into the Mirage Hotel, but not before Clark has tried to get Ellen to join the "Mile High Club" on board the flight from Chicago, which results in nothing more than massive blue stains from the jetliner's toilet. Such bathroom gags are about the extent of Vegas Vacation's comic imagination, and the film quickly bogs down. John Hughes's scripts depended on wildly absurd events that came from left field, but that Clark Griswold faced with deadpan sang-froid until the inevitable moment when he snapped and went berserk. Vegas Vacation can't think of challenges more novel for Clark to surmount than getting called on stage by Siegfried and Roy, getting lost during a tour of Hoover Dam and losing all the family's money in the casino. None of these setups is novel or amusing, and the filmmakers fail to add humor through such cheesy devices as having the Hoover Dam tour guide insert the word "dam" into every sentence or having the blackjack dealer taunt Clark gleefully when he loses. (The dealer is played by Wallace Shawn, doing a pale imitation of his Vizzini character from The Princess Bride; he all but shouts: "Inconceivable!" when he wins hand after hand.) Meanwhile, Ellen falls under the spell of her idol, Vegas regular Wayne Newton (playing himself), who turns out to be—wouldn't ya know it?—a vain, self-absorbed celebrity. Isn't that hilarious? Newton had already demonstrated a knack for comedy in roles that took advantage of the villainous edge one always suspected lay just beneath his saccharine surface. He was a treacherous record producer in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990) and a phony preacher fronting for a Colombian drug lord in License to Kill (1989). The makers of Vegas Vacation lacked the wit to tap that potential for a genuine comedic enemy to hurl against Clark and Ellen Griswold. Audrey Griswold cuts lose under the influence of her cousin Vicki (Shae D'lyn), the eldest daughter of Cousin Eddie (Quaid), who is living with his wife (Flynn) and extended brood on a former atomic test site in the desert. Vicki is a pole dancer, who learned her best moves from her own father. I'll bet no one would have guessed that Eddie would have his own daughter cage-dancing to support her old man. Rusty buys a fake ID that allows him to gamble. Under the name Nick Pappagiorgio, he brings luck to a high roller named Jilly (producer Weintraub), who vouches for the kid so that he ends up "comp'ed" for a suite and convincingly passes as a big shot—that is, until Mom and Dad appear and drag him off for a family meeting. It's a mildly amusing gimmick that quickly wears out its welcome. The only moments in Vegas Vacation that recall the true spirit of the franchise are two cameos that add up to just a few minutes of screen time. Christie Brinkley reprises her role from the original film as the mysterious woman in the red Ferrari who passes Clark on the road. It's an inspired sequel to the original visual joke that I won't spoil. And near the end, the great Sid Caesar appears as Mr. Ellis, a lonely old man playing Keno, thereby bookending the appearance by his former comedy partner, Imogene Coca, as Aunt Edna in Vacation. Mr. Ellis' response to the announcement of a game result is one of those inspired bits of physical comedy for which Caesar was famous. It's gratuitous silliness, but Caesar prolongs it for no reason other than the sheer joy of being nutty, and for a brief moment Vegas Vacation soars to comic heights beyond anything in the preceding 90 minutes. But then Caesar's gone, and the movie clatters back to earth—and you realize anew just what a clumsy contraption it is.
Vegas Vacation Blu-ray, Video Quality
I'm always fascinated when a world-class cinematographer shows up in the credits of a turkey, but producer Jerry Weintraub has a knack for recruiting talent. William A. Fraker—six-time Oscar nominee, past president of the American Society of Cinematographers, the DP of such films as Rosemary's Baby, Bullitt and 1941 and, three years after this film, a recipient of the ASC's Lifetime Achievement Award—shot Vegas Vacation with his usual unobtrusive professionalism. Fraker's work is ably represented on Warner's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray, which is detailed, fine-grained and colorful. Whether photographing the casino interiors, the desert exteriors near Cousin Eddie's trailer, the elaborate shows by Wayne Newton and Siegfried and Roy, or Newton's equally elaborate home (shot in the real location), Fraker lights for a "natural look", trusting in Vegas itself to supply the requisite sense of artificiality. Black levels and contrast appear to be spot on, and there is no indication of inappropriate digital filtering, artificial sharpening or other untoward manipulation. The film is short enough to compress easily onto a BD-25 without artifacts. If you're a fan of Vegas Vacation, this presentation should be just what you're after.
Vegas Vacation Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's original 5.1 track is encoded as lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1, and anyone who thinks that 5.1 makes no difference in a comedy should hear this track. (If only it accompanied a better film.) The original score by Joel McNeely (a frequent Disney composer) and the pastiche of Vegas-themed tunes assembled by the music department have been effectively spread across the front soundstage and into the surrounds so that they seem to wrap around the listening space. The swinging, brassy arrangements keep dangling the promise of the fantasy Vegas that everyone imagines from Rat Pack movies (and that Rusty actually manages to live for a brief time), while Clark keeps colliding with the reality that you lose your shirt and the beautiful women flock to the high rollers, not to middle-aged family men. The dialogue is clear (but unfortunately still not funny), and appropriate sound effects occasionally issue from the rear speakers at appropriate moments. The trip to Hoover Dam provides a few good opportunities. Bass extension is adequate, though rarely used.
Vegas Vacation Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Other than the film's trailer (480i; 1.78:1, enhanced; 2:14), the disc contains no extras.
Vegas Vacation Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Vegas Vacation made money at the box office, because fans are hopeful at heart. Even when the critics panned the film, lovers of the Vacation series hoped it was because the critical establishment simply didn't "get" it. But the film had no staying power, because in fact it isn't worthy of the series. Like the city in which it takes place, it promises you glitz, glamor and fun, but when it's over, your pockets are empty, you don't remember much and you wonder why you came. A technically fine Blu-ray, but not recommended as a film.
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