Director: Stephen Kessler
Written by Elisa Bell & Bob Ducsay
Release Date: 14 February 1997
Running Time: 93 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Editor’s Rating: Two out of four possible Wayne Newtons
As far as family comedies go, you could do a whole lot worse than sit down and watch Vegas Vacation start to finish. There’s a certain charm to the only PG-rated Griswold story, and it does a serviceable job to the franchise while working within its ratings drop. The plot goes like this: family man Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) has actually received a bonus that isn’t a subscription to the Jam of the Month club for once. His newest food preservative invention, the Ma-Guff-O-Tron 9000, miraculously grants money to any man who invents it so he and his family can go on a trip to… Las Vegas?
Now most of us know Las Vegas as the place where once-famous celebrities and gambling addicts go to while away their final years. We also know it’s where very nice and genial men and women offer their company for a fee in a way that is illegal everywhere else in America. Yet Clark, in his ineffable wisdom, all but drives the family there against their will. So of course, when they finally arrive, things get weird. Griswold weird.
While I said this wasn’t a bad Vacation movie and stand by it, the inclusion of crazy Cousin Eddie (played by the actually-crazy Randy Quaid) feels unnatural and forced, even for a character as brash and intrusive as Eddie. He’s got a rather “Hey, I was in the first movie, so here I am again” vibe as he comes in out of nowhere to ruin Clark’s luck.
There’s an interesting twist to the PG rating that I find worthy of mentioning. In the past, Vacation movies had been R or PG-13. Looking back at them, With the exception of a few pairs of boobies, it’s hard to tell why. Most of the other humor is there: dysfunctional families, gross-out jokes, terrible people, etc. So, it's interesting: is Vegas Vacation a product of times changing since the 1980s, or do boobies really carry that much weight with the MPAA?
As far as actors go here, everyone is pulling off believable performances. Props go to Ethan Embry, the fourth Rusty incarnation, for his constant giggling and happiness. The great character actor Wallace Shawn gives a very funny performance as well as Clark's Blackjack-dealing nemesis. And the late, great Sid Caesar gives his final performance on film in what is easily the most-quotable part of the movie. But the best performance in this film comes from none other than Mr. Danke Schoen himself, Wayne Newton. Taking a cue from Bob Barker's performance as himself from Happy Gilmore, Newton delivers on this overblown version of himself in the best way possible as he attempts to steal Ellen, the matriarch of the Griswold clan. It just goes to show that the trend of celebs making fun of themselves isn't anything new, though guys like Adam West and William Shatner have made secondary careers out of it.
Like I said in the beginning, Vegas Vacation isn't going to win any awards (or didn't, for that matter), but it's an enjoyable watch otherwise. It also sets a very realistic hurdle for the new Vacation to jump over. If the new one can't top this, then it's probably time to let the Griswolds destroy their vacations without a camera crew following them around.
**I rented this film from a streaming service I pay for. I was not compensated for this review.**