“Kids! Big Ben! Parliament!”
National Lampoon’s European Vacation, 1984 (Chevy Chase) Warner Bros.
If I were to make a list of the various creative deficits of National Lampoon’s first movie sequel, European Vacation, I would have to begin with the deliberate and obvious set-ups for “humor.” Where Vacation rang natural, perhaps organic in the approach to comedy, European Vacation artificially creates silly situations and environments within which Chevy Chase, returning as Clark W. Griswold, must abide. The Griswold family appears on the popular game show, Pig in a Poke (hosted by John Astin’s Kent Winkdale), and wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Europe. Rather than having terrible things happen to our characters throughout the movie, there are unusual trade-offs. Sometimes it’s Clark’s fault. Sometimes it everyone else’s fault. Europe is the obvious target here as the naïve (yet still “ugly”) Americans commit a faux pas, get overcharged for basic services, or unwittingly rent stolen cars. Clark, being a stupid American, drives on the wrong side of the road and consequently spends hours in the roundabout because he “can’t go left!”
Ellen (Beverly D’ Angelo) isn’t spared the humiliation either. Early in the movie, Clark brings a video camera into the bathroom while Ellen showers. She does a little sexy dance and he leaves the camera running for their inevitable tryst. Later, in Paris, the camera is stolen. Billboards are being erected (heh) in Rome announcing her newfound fame as an adult movie actress. That was quick work! Of course we know Clark is ultimately to blame but Ellen went along with it. More often than not, the Griswolds are victimized by resourceful Brits, French, and Italians they encounter. I’m reminded of the phenomenon of Flanderization. Named after Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, Flanderization occurs when a character is introduced as possessing a singular quality. Over time, that quality will be amplified and exaggerated to the point of losing touch with all reality. This is what happens to Clark throughout the Vacation series of movies. Clark knocks the Stonehenge rocks over and gets into a slap-party with angry Germans at Oktoberfest. All of this escalates into a kidnapping set-piece when Ellen is abducted by the car rental thief from earlier in the movie. Too much of the movie seems constructed for isolated giggles rather than telling a funny story.
Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall were replaced by Jason Lively and Dana Hill as Rusty and Audrey, the Griswold children. Eric Idle, Robbie Coltrane, and Mel Smith make amusing cameo appearances. Robert Klane writes his script around unused material from John Hughes’ original Vacation script and Amy Heckerling directs this mess with none of the spirit or flair she showed for comedy with her earlier Fast Times at Ridgemont High or her later Look Who’s Talking and Clueless. What’s missing are director Harold Ramis and Hughes’ instincts for ambush comedy, nightmare fuel, and sympathetic characters. European Vacation is just plain uninspired goofiness. Hughes would return to write the superior Christmas Vacation in 1989 (which itself spawned a spin-off sequel, Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure). The Griswolds would appear in Vegas Vacation in 1997. None of these movies would top the 1983 original.