An Open Letter to Kevin Smith

Dear Kevin,

The art of film needs you right now. Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (hereinafter Jay and Silent Bob) are by far your best films.  They have the most well-expressed satire, which shows your greatest strength—satirical storytelling.  These two films are also your most influential and/or timeless.  Clerks, a satire about slackers who are happy being miserable and doing nothing but talking about girls and pop culture, inspired several movies such as Cant Hardly Wait and American Pie.  But it is Jay and Silent Bob that I believe is your most timeless film.  It makes fun of how cynical the Internet has made moviegoers, and how Hollywood is sequel crazy.  In short, it is more relevant now than what it was in 2001.  That said, I would like to see at least one more story from you that bashes Hollywood’s dopiness and smothering of art.  In order for you to do that, of course, you would need to return to two things: 1) satirical writing, and 2) not endorsing Hollywood’s lack of creativity.

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C’mon, what pisses you off?

I have the inkling that, even after all of these years, you still have a lot to say about what is wrong with various aspects of media.  I base my inkling off of all your real-life stories that you told at your concerts and convention appearances.  Your audiences were laughing all the way through stories such as your attempts to write a serious outline for a Superman movie, and your frustrations with directing a major studio movie.  Personally, I found it intriguing that you were the small-town guy who reported to all of his fans the ridiculousness of Hollywood.  Your verbal storytelling ability has been integral to your current status as the voice of our now nerd-centric culture.

It is you who can convince the “nerds” that they must demand higher quality American mainstream cinema.  Hollywood is only crappy because we let it be that way. By paying to see the umpteenth derivative work, and largely ignoring the non-derivative ones, we enable Hollywood to continue making the same thing over and over.  Case in point: thought-provoking, AI-centered, suspense/sci-fi film Ex Machina made $25 million here in the U.S., while generic, light-on-story/heavy-on-CG-action Avengers 2 made $458 million in the US.  I long for the day when, once again, movies like The Matrix and Cast Away are the films that people pay to see, because they want to see a good movie, not a dumb one that they “can just shut their brains off for two hours and not think while watching.”

As it is, I have not seen any hilarious, biting satire from you in about ten years.  Instead, there have been films such as Red State, an action thriller that glumly, not comedically, satirizes radical Christians; and Tusk, a horror film, in which the hook is gross-out shock value.  Further, I see that your next two movies will be of the same ilk as Tusk— “fun” horror movies.  These films do not represent your best work.  The same goes for the upcoming Mallrats 2 and Clerks 3.

Jay and Silent Bob bashes Hollywood for, among several things, constantly producing unoriginal films (“Scream 4”, “Good Will Hunting 2”).  Yet, here you are now, not only making more sequels, but also embracing the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII.  Now, I know that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite movie, and that you are a die-hard fan of the franchise.  But aren’t you concerned that VII reeks of nostalgia?  Doesn’t it bother you that most of the original cast is back, Luke looks like Obi-Wan, or that the main villain models himself after Darth Vader?  These are questions that I wish you would be asking your audience, because you are the voice of a generation who is apparently okay with seeing zero new, original movies.

What is ironic is that lately you have been endorsing such products whilst being more independent as a filmmaker than ever.  Films like Star Wars: The Forced Awakening and Batman v Superman: Dawn of More Pointless Superhero Films are the very films that represent the fact that Hollywood is more money-hungry than ever, hence the constant production of movies with built-in fan bases.  These films also represent how overly nostalgic our generation is, and how they (the films and consumers) say to hell with the potential tainting of future generations’ views of the originals.  We need a voice like yours to call attention to such questions.  Hollywood suffocates art by influencing the general public to believe that soulless drivel is good.

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“It had the best opening weekend of all time.  Obviously the best movie of all time.”

As a filmmaker who is trying to create his own art, and who struggles to find non-Hollywood money to do each project, it would be logical for you to express concern about Hollywood’s problem to your fans.  Combined, VII and BVS cost about $400 million to make; that money could theoretically fund at least 40 Kevin Smith movies.  In other words, why support the system that wouldn’t even give you a million dollars to make Red State?  Now, I understand that Hollywood’s stinginess towards you was actually a blessing in disguise, because it allows you to embrace your true independent filmmaking spirit.  But take the blessing and run, man!

It crushes me whenever there is a news story such as “Kevin Smith Endorses New, Unoriginal Film”, or when you release an endorsing podcast of such films.  And when you talk about films like Jurassic World, you don’t praise it for its script, you praise it for being dumb fun.  The popular movies should be more than that.  Alas, “dumb fun” is increasingly becoming an acceptable trait of what are supposed to be serious films.  After being given amazingly well-made summer films such as Forrest Gump, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park, I am frustrated that our current generation settles for inherently inferior films.  For this reason, I suggest that you at least discuss more original films that not only take themselves seriously, but also are currently underrated, like Nightcrawler, Ex Machina, and Maggie.  It only seems logical that an independent filmmaker would at least give attention to such non-mainstream films as those.

Lastly, I am wondering why you are following the trend of making sequels.  You broke into the industry by trendsetting.  You made it cool for characters to sit around and discuss pop culture in ridiculous contexts, and have explicitly sexual conversations.  Were it not for you, there would have been no Judd Apatow (albeit for like 5 minutes) or Seth Rogen.  Even in the last few years, you set the trend of promoting your own films via screening tours, complete with your appearances and Q&As.  Trendsetting is what you do.  And what most filmmakers are not doing is calling out Hollywood.  I believe that such largely unmined territory is yours.

On the surface, it may seem that you have returned to your roots with the satirical thriller Red State, because it was low-budget and independent.  But the roots run deeper than budgets and independence; they lie within all those days that you wrote for hours on end every day after school, what made Clerks your career starter, and what made you the voice of our generation.

Sincerely,

Richie Watkins

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Richie’s Rants: Kung Fury

by Richie Watkins

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I used to go to a college where most of the students laughed at the most stupid crap, like trying to speak the lyrics of an awful 80s song into a normal conversation.

“I don’t know how well I’m gonna do on this test”, says one person.

Enter the person’s “funny” friend, whose jokes always fall as flat as his/her feet, with this humdinger: “You’re the best around, and no one’s ever gonna keep you down.”

I’m sure you have met someone who has not only made this joke, but also is the Terminator of bad jokes.  He or she absolutely will not stop–ever–until you are dead (most likely from jumping into oncoming traffic so you don’t have to hear him quote that drug-fueled Charlie Sheen interview, which you forgot about until right now). (P.S. Don’t watch/re-watch it).  Wait, you remember when I said that Sir Flatfoot made a joke?  Forget that, he made a reference in hopes of laughs.

Watching the internet sensation, Kung Fury, this past week, I suddenly felt like I was in a classroom again with a bunch of those idiots.  In the first 30 minutes, there were no real jokes or satire.  Instead there were just references to things that you apparently loved about the 80s, like Thor and dinosaurs…right?

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Pictured: My response.

Great comedy unfolds from characters.  But I guess the filmmaker/main star David Sandberg is rewriting the rules.  In fact, they should not even be called characters, because they’re caricatures…of archetypes.  The titular character is a no-nonsense cop who plays by his own rules (and whose voice sounds like a stilted imitation of Duke Nukem and Clint Eastwood).  A main character should have an arc, but not Kung Fury!  At the beginning, he resists a new partner.  The next time we see the new partner, he saves Fury’s life, and Fury suddenly has a change of heart.  Did I mention that the new partner is Triceracop? It’s a dinosaur dressed as a cop.

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Take note Sandberg, having a dinosaur in your film just because does not make it actually funny.  They need important stuff to do, like get high from eating a new plant, which causes their lives to crumble.  See the marijuana episode of Dinosaurs.

There is no rhyme or reason to this movie.  Things randomly blow up, people randomly act out of character for the sake of a laugh, and entire set pieces happen for no reason.  Even crap like Scary Movie had set ups for its poop and sex jokes.

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“Hahaha!  Laser-shooting dinosaurs just because! That was a good one, Internet!”

HEY!  IT’S NOT FUNNY! IT’S PAPER THIN!  We’re supposed to laugh at the production  solely because it looks cheap.  To the trained movie-watching eye, one can tell when something sucks on purpose, and that the lack of straight-faced delivery makes every comedic attempt land with a thud.  Take, for example, this exchange between Thor and Kung Fury:

Thor: “Check out my pecs.”

Kung Fury: “Your pecs are epic.”

Thor: “Thanks, bro!”

Why are some bad movies funny?  Well, because the delivery of awful material is dead serious.  Case in point: Samurai Cop.  The movie tries its damndest to follow the 80s cop movie formula, but every element about is awkwardly bad, and the plot has too many holes to name.  No one in the movie mugs for the camera to say a bad line, and when “big, crazy moments” happen, they have context.  In other words, it’s awesome because it’s sincerely bad.

Unfortunately, concepts such as context (as well as breathing room between jokes, for example) have slowly gone to the wayside over the last 10 years.  A lot of Generation Y and Millenials just want the dessert, not the appetizer nor the full entree.  I suppose that is what people are conditioned to want when they can access almost any video clip or picture that gives them instant laughs.  The gluttony of media, thanks to the Internet, has also made our generation far too nostalgic for its own good.  We’re so busy remembering the 80s, 90s, and 2000s by posting pictures about “our childhood” that we are forgetting to push for more original content that does not make our current period a joke.

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“Grandpa, what was 2015 like?”

“Well, it was a time of great memories.”

“Like what?”

“Well, there was the time I remembered being obsessed with Pokemon, then I posted a picture about it to the Internet to let it know that I remembered.  THAT was pretty cool.”

It’s an alarming sign of the times when a movie is praised for being nostalgic, as several critics have done with Kung Fury.  Even worse, they praise it for being wildly original.  What’s so original about making fun of the 80s?  Family Guy and Robot Chicken already vultured the remains of that dead horse.  Also, what’s so original about intentionally making a film suck?  Does Birdemic or Snakes on a Plane ring any bells?  What irks me about such films is that they inherently discourage you from bashing them for sucking.  They are thin veils for people whose true motives are to be considered good by not trying to make a real movie.  In addition, what is original about making fun of 80s cop movies?

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Pictured: the latest victim of identity theft.

Here’s a thought, Kung Fury fans: instead of liking a film (or anything, actually) because everyone else does, develop a criteria for how to objectively judge it.  It IS possible do so with even comedy.  When one’s sense of humor can, say, detect irony or contradictions (in lines, situations, and characters), one can appreciate and perhaps relate to what is transpiring in the story, and could laugh because of it.

Any true fan of comedy should be ashamed that Kung Fury exists.  If this is hailed as a modern masterpiece, will more movies of this ilk be made?  Keep in mind that the highest grossing comedy last year was 22 Jump Street, which constantly jokes that it’s a repeat of 21 Jump Street.  If laughing at “No Rhyme or Reason: The Movie” or “This Movie Sucks But It’s Okay Because That’s The Joke” become the norm, and less and less actual comedy films are made, will the art of comedy be ruined?  (Hint: yes).

Be honest: did you like Kung Fury because it was free?  Would you have paid to see this?  The answer is yes, because the critics told you that you should like it.  Enjoy the fad kids, because very soon it will be thrown into the trash where it belongs.

Rating: 0 out of 10

American Ultra AKA Identity Crisis: The Movie

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by: Richie Watkins

American Ultra is an action-comedy about a slacker stoner who fights to keep himself and his girlfriend alive, after he discovers not only that he has superhuman abilities, but also that the CIA is trying to kill him because they see him as a threat.  On paper, American Ultra sounds like “stoner Jason Bourne”.  However, it plays more like a missed opportunity to spoof the last 15 years of the modern, one-man-kills-them-all action movies.

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) is, for the most part, painful to watch, and tolerable only during the action scenes (because he does not have to say anything or attempt to emote).  When Mike becomes sad, the acting is cringeworthy because he sounds whiny, and when Mike becomes angry, the acting is frustrating because Eisenberg holds back.  I just don’t understand what is so appealing about characters who are incapable of properly expressing their emotions, when the film makes no effort to exploit such a shortcoming for laughs.

Why exactly is Mike not a good character?  Well, it is because his personality is too passive.  The dude has no drive.  What about Mike’s comic book writing and drawing hobby?  Yeah, that is exactly what I was left wondering at the end of the movie  (I’ll get to that in a bit).  His only problem is that he feels like he is holding Phoebe back from being successful.  But does he do anything to solve this problem?  No.  He cries about it, and Phoebe tells him, “No, you don’t hold me back.” To the film’s credit, this inner problem of Mike’s is alluded to at least once more in the film, and is shown to be solved in the end.  Therefore, it does give the movie a point, but it never seems as though Mike is actively trying to solve that problem.  When Phoebe does become involved with the bad guys trying to kill Mike, he is simply trying to save her life because he loves her.

Now, one could argue that Mike does in fact have a goal.  The fault in that argument is that, while his actions certainly become active early on, Mike’s personality remains boredom tear-inducing “blah”.  In other words, Eisenberg’s acting does not convince me that the character has any drive.

Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) is uninteresting as well.  Even when we find out more about her character, she remains less-than-two-dimensional.  Her acting is less monotone than that of Eisenberg, but only because she is required to do more than simply act stoned for 90 minutes.

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Pictured: 1st day of acting class

Topher Grace, who plays the CIA agent in charge of operation “Kill Mike”, overacts in every scene he is given.  His approach would have been great if the film were an outrageous comedy, but even then, repeatedly shouting curse words is nothing but grating.

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Look, kids!  It’s a recovering Spider-Man 3 actor!

Here is a case of a movie that is not sure what it wants to be.  In some scenes, it is supposed to be very serious, but there are several moments that attempt to be funny, but instead sour the feeling of the movie.  Seriously, American Ultra filmmakers, pick a genre and stick with it!  Examples: Mike is trapped underneath a burning car, and says, less-than-seriously, to a bad guy, “I hate you!”.

The action scenes, on the other hand, when fighting and gunplay are happening, are very intense, and are (gasp) consistent, which is why two certain ones were the best in the movie. While they generally move the story along, they don’t fit with the feel of the half-baked, noticeably there-and-gone-again quirkiness of the dialogue scenes.  They especially don’t fit with the indie, young adult, drama-romance scenes in the first act, nor do they fit with the stoner comedy feel either.  If you want to go hard, make an action film.  And if you want to be funny at the same time, figure out how to create comedic moments that naturally sprout from the action.  A stoner film is not about fight scenes.  It’s about watching people screw up because they smoke too much weed.

Another flaw in the story is that big moments abruptly happen, meaning there is no suspense leading up to them.  Therefore, such big moments fall flat.  There is no built-up mystery around certain characters, so when a “shocking” revelation occurs, it feels stale because it feels random and forced.  What is supposed to be the biggest moment–the climax–is…well….anti-climatic.  Spoiler: there is nothing memorable about the final fight.  In an action film like Lethal Weapon, the final fight is memorable.  Why?  Because it is a change of pace from all of the action scenes.  1) It is set in the rain in the front yard of a house, and 2) the fight is so much rawer than anything else in the movie. In that scene, the protagonist and antagonist fight dirtier than what we have seen them fight before in order to try to kill each other.  In American Ultra, the location of the fight is the same as all of the other ones, the henchmen Mike just disposed of, and there are no tense moments that make me feel as though Mike is having a much harder time with the opponent than he did with anyone else.

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Even in Lethal Weapon 4’s final fight, the filmmakers do something different by making Riggs and Murtaugh suck even more than in the rest of the movie, by pitting them against Jet Li.

There are several scenes (mainly in the first half) that show Mike’s great passion for his creation–a superhero ape named Apollo Ape.  However, the arc never receives closure because the movie is more concerned with turning Mike into a total badass.  The movie seems to hint that Mike is still thinking about Apollo Ape at the end of the film, when he goes on a new mission (we see illustrations of Apollo Ape beating everyone up, just as Mike begins to fight and the credits begin to roll).  So, I suppose one could argue some artistic BS like, “Mike didn’t need to finish his comic book about a superhero monkey, because he was living it!” (pictured below: a stereotype of who would say this; captioned below: my response).

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No.

Nonetheless, the comic book arc served no purpose to the story.  Mike never flashes to visions of this ape at any point in any of the other fights.  Therefore, it seems silly to introduce an arc, then inexplicably drop it when the action begins.

The characters, their revelations, the setup for the plot, the plot itself, and the story beats are too cliché to not be made fun of, especially since this is supposed to be a comedy.  There was a great foundation laid, but nothing was done to take advantage of it.

For the most part, this is not even a stoner comedy, except for the first 15 minutes or so.  There are long periods of time without comedy.  And when comedy does happen, it’s so “heh” and not “haha”.  The humor is more akin to comic relief from Die Hard.  The kind where it makes you go, “Oh!  That character just showed an unexpected hint of another dimension of their personality!”  The lines that I am talking about are when Topher Grace briefs his men on going to kill Mike, who is trapped in a police station and he says, “There is no way you can possibly mess this up!”, and when Mike makes one of his first two kills with a spoon, Grace’s character responds to one of his subordinates, “He was killed with a spoon?”

The right-hand man of Grace’s character, Laugher, has…get this…a crazy laugh!  And…get this…it’s not funny!  because it’s used to show how crazy the character is. I just view it as, “Oh, he’s crazy.”  When he repeatedly does it, I view it as “Wow, he’s annoying.”

I’m not sure why the writers didn’t just make Mike become immune to weed. Then his goal would not be to be turbo-charged, but to try to get high. Wouldn’t that be the perfect motivation for a character who is a stoner at heart, and for, ya know, a STONER movie?

American Ultra could have actually been very funny had it recognized the clichés and made fun of them, and played more to its apparent target audience.  (The whole “I’m worried I’m holding you back” angle could have been ripped upon big time for being an inconsequential inner problem).  Also, Eisenberg and Stewart are not convincing as potheads.  Their amateurish acting is like that of teenagers trying to act like potheads in a college student film.  Why not do something different by casting actors who have never done a slacker/stoner movie before?  Get a James McAvoy, or a Keira Knightley.  If original movies are going to thrive in this modern age of cinema, they need actors, writers, producers, and directors that can bring the idea of a film to life.

Save for a couple of cool action scenes, American Ultra is a largely forgettable film that seems unsure of what it wants to be–an over-the-top action film, or a romantic stoner comedy.

“The New Griswolds Take a Vacation; So Does Comedy and Creativity”

by Richie Watkins

Last Friday, I saw Vacation.  As of this writing, I’m still trying to unsee it.  For those who don’t know, Vacation is a reboot of the Vacation film series, started by the 1983 classic National Lampoon’s Vacation, and left dormant by the 1997 classic (at least by Monday-nights-on-TBS-circa-2003 standards,) Vegas Vacation.  The 2015 film serves as more of a direct sequel to the first film.  Now an adult who is married with two kids, Rusty Griswold (played by Ed Helms), wants to do something with his family that they can all enjoy, so he plans a vacation for Wally World.  Of course, the vacation turns out to be a nightmare.  Unfortunately, for the audience, it’s not a funny kind of nightmare, like in the original (which has the same basic premise), but the kind of nightmare that is like watching that one dude at a party who relentlessly tries to make people laugh, but each attempt is more pathetic than the last.

Vacation stumbles from one dud of a gag/joke to another.  Once one joke/gag fails, the filmmakers are already setting up the next one.  And the punchlines become increasingly telegraphed, so the pattern becomes increasingly painful and tiring.  Attempts at comedy are done at the expense of presenting likable characters.  The younger Griswold kid is a grating brat, who continually bullies his older brother for “having a vagina” and “saying weird sh**”.  In one scene, this kid even suffocates him with a plastic bag!  (This is all supposed to be funny, mind you).  While not nearly as grating, the older brother is still annoying because the filmmakers try to give him an arc–building the courage to stand up to his brother, which happens by talking with a cute girl for a total of 3 minutes.  Ultimately, the arc is pointless because the story is not about him, it’s about Rusty (I’ll get to him in a minute).  Christina Applegate, who is actually a terrific comedic actress (see Anchorman) is squandered here as Rusty’s wife, whatever her name is.  Her arc is that she is unhappy with her marriage, because Rusty never takes them anywhere exotic, “like Paris”, but then she realizes her husband is trying his best, so she concludes that her marriage is perfect.  Whether or not this arc is good is irrelevant, because she is not a character that needs one!

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Pictured: Warner Bros.’ reason you should see this movie.

Now, onto Rusty.  I’ll start off by saying that Ed Helms turned in a very poor performance.  Why was it poor?  Because it was inconsistent.  He’s introduced as a guy who tries to do good, but bad things happen to him because of other people’s faults.  To be honest, this would have been a perfect introduction if that were his character.  But no.  In the following scenes, he is suddenly also a character who desperately tries to be like what he perceives as a perfect family, by embarrassing himself and his son by play fighting, something that he outright copies from what the perfect father does with his son.  Plus, he is revealed to be a complete idiot, because he does it right in front of them after they do it; then, he steals the perfect dad’s nickname for his own son.

On top of that, in other scenes, Helms tries to flat-out act like Chevy Chase, specifically when he blows an “intimate” moment between his oldest son and his (the son’s) crush (which is, in and of itself, a cringe worthy moment).  Keep in mind, that in most of the other movies, Rusty was usually level-headed.  And he was most certainly not a character whose personality shifted according to whatever the joke for that scene needed to be.  So, is it not a stretch that he should be different from Clark, by not being a moron, and just a guy to whom bad things happen due to no fault of his own?  His goal is admirable–to become closer with his family.  This goal is relatable to anyone who strives to be a great parent, spouse, etc.  But the fact remains that it is a straight-up jack of Clark’s goal in the original.  What the reboot does differently, though, is ensure that Rusty doesn’t actually achieve his goal.  That’s right.  This set of Griswolds turns out to be utterly disappointed with Wally World.  So, it’s an arc that could have been purposeful, but for the sake of comedy, turns out to be pointless.

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This is one frame of Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold.  Imagine having to endure 24 of these a second for 90 minutes.

In the original, Clark is written with a take-it-or-leave-it comedic approach.  For the most part, his performance didn’t scream for people to laugh.  And by not trying, he was funny. Rusty, on the other hand, does nothing except point out the obvious to be funny.  Case in point: Chris Hemsworth (I don’t call him by his character name, because he just plays himself), on three different occasions in a span of two minutes, draws very stretched/abstract comparisons of situations to faucets.  This could’ve been mildly funny after he made the third reference, but Helms blows it by saying, “what is it with this guy and faucets?!”.  Note to filmmakers: it’s NOT FUNNY to say what the audience thinks is funny about a joke.

How to play comedy straight:

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Rusty: “And if I were funnier and more clever back then, I would’ve said, ‘Dad, you’ve gone insane!  You’re yelling at your family because you’re trying to have fun as an obligation, given our hellish experiences so far!”

What irks me is that we’re supposed to be invested not in the characters, but in the events that happen to them.  Most of the jokes/gags come from things happening to the characters, and that’s it.  In the original, the Griswolds are likeable people, despite their flaws.  It was how they dealt with their bad situations that made the movie so funny.  Unlike the 2015 film, it did not rely on the absurdity of the events alone to make people laugh.  And this stark contrast is crystal clear in the scenes with Chase reprising his role.  His loving, caring, but bumbling and oblivious nature, were intact with the Clark we remember.  And now that he’s much older, it’s understandable that he’s also crankier and even more bumbling and oblivious.

And what made those 2 ½ scenes so great (read: bearable)?  No one was pointing out the obvious about his schtick, and no one was making sex/potty humor jokes.  It’s like all the actors knew to just shut up and let someone who knows what they are doing with the Vacation feeling make with the funny.  Come to think of it, for that reason, those scenes were The New Griswolds’ best ones, because they stayed in the background where they belonged. Given that I have not laughed at anything from Chase post-Nothing But Trouble (1991), I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable his appearance in this film was.  Granted, he doesn’t show up until well past the hour mark, so by then I would’ve welcomed a highlight reel of Vegas Vacation.  Thankfully, I saw something better than that.

Vacation represents everything that is wrong with modern, mainstream, American comedies.  The serious moments hold no weight; the least intellectual jokes are of sex and poop, and the most intellectual ones are of meta humor (which is infuriatingly lazy); characters are incredibly mean-spirited to one another; punchlines are pathetically telegraphed; and, worst of all, it’s not about anything: it’s just a series of things happening.

Remember when comedies actually made fun of topics outside of sex and potty humor?  Remember when they weren’t just cinematic equivalents to would-be comedians rehashing jokes of the comedy greats, without so much as even the concept of the reason why the greats made those jokes in the first place?  1983 Vacation was written by the late, great John Hughes, who wanted to write about how miserable a family vacation can be for kids cramped up in the backseat of a car.  Chase and Harold Ramis, then, took that story and made it about the parents’ misery.  Memorable elements included: the annoying, country bumpkin relatives they encounter along the way; Aunt Edna, the crotchety old woman that the Griswolds must transport from the country bumpkins to another location; being tempted by a supermodel, who inexplicably finds Clark to be attractive; and many more.  The stories that Chase, Hughes, and Ramis created work because they are relatable.  It is impossible to relate to faceless characters who exist only to be objects of wacky events.

Even worse, this film embodies what is wrong with mainstream films today–unoriginality.  That parody of the girl-in-the-ferrari scene (from the original) you may have seen in the previews?  That was straight up stolen from an episode of Family Guy.

Rip-off:

Original:

(pause)  Has that soaked in?  Okay, next.  That dialogue you may have heard in the previews about how Rusty wants to “re-do his vacation from 30 years ago”, and how “this vacation will stand on its own”?  That was ripped off from the 2012 film 21 Jump Street.

Rip-off:

Original (from 21 Jump Street):  “We’re reviving a canceled undercover police program from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.”

Also, what’s with the macabre sense of humor?  Why does the comedy have to be weird and disturbing?  Case in point: there is a scene where Rusty crashes an ATV into a steer, and another steer approaches him and starts eating the remains off of him.  Were scenes like this created because Hangover, American Pie, and the Farrelly Brothers have conditioned people to enjoy this trash?

Vacation, and movies of its ilk, expose what’s wrong with a lot of people’s sense of humor–they don’t know the difference between comedy that makes you go “hah” and a gag that makes you go “eww!”.  (Guess which one the two videos below represent).

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If you look closely at this scene, there is brilliant symbolism happening.  The characters symbolize the actors playing them; what they think is the beautiful hot spring symbolizes the actors’ misconception that this movie would be the next hot thing, based upon a decently funny script they read; and the realization of what the characters have actually stepped in symbolizes the very different, final shooting script the actors read right before filming this scene.

Speaking of symbolism, let’s discuss that “climax”, shall we? The ride, for which the Griswolds have traveled over 2,000 miles to experience, symbolizes the payoff we as the audience have been waiting for.  The ride gets going, they’re having fun, and we are having fun enjoying what feels like a genuine moment in the film.  Then, the ride stops, leaving them hanging upside down all day, until they have to be pulled out by the ambulance.  Naturally, the family leaves, disappointed.  And so do we, because the filmmakers squandered the perfect opportunity (to make me not hate the film more) by sacrificing basic storytelling mechanics for another cheap laugh.  And for one final insult, at the end of a slideshow of the family’s vacation pictures, as well as pictures that show the fates of minor characters, the filmmakers give us a picture of Chris Hemsworth standing on the beach, with the head of his johnson hanging out of his shorts.  I would’ve rather seen a picture of the entire cast and crew flipping off the camera, while holding flaming blu-ray copies of the original.  At least that would’ve been honest.

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You know what the best thing Chris Hemsworth has ever done in his acting career? 

Not be in any of the greatest movies of all time.

Not once was I laughing at or with the Griswolds.  Throughout the film, I was suffering from watching them.  Aside from Chase’s scenes (which, admittedly, were not hysterical), the only funny part was with Charlie Day’s appearance as a white water rafting guide.  In fact, he delivered the funniest line in the whole movie.  The problem is, it’s a throwaway line from a throwaway character (although his arc–a guy who is overly bubbly because he is engaged, who then becomes suicidal because his fiance calls him and breaks off the engagement–is moderately funny).

This movie is a perfect example of the fact that comedy and film are dying as a mainstream art.  Sadly, it has already profited by about $15 million at the box office, so I’m sure there will be another sequel that no one asked for, but enough people will go see because it’s “something to do on a Friday night”.  Yeah, so is jumping from a cliff into a sea of saltwater lined with glass shards at the bottom, but at least that doesn’t cost $10.

This final image is for those of you have already seen the movie and been disappointed (and chose to read my blog to reaffirm your opinion):

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Sorry folks, reboot’s godawful.  Previews up front shoulda told ya.