That the bit with the tree and the bit with the turkey (solid sight gags both) recur on holiday-movie clipshows speaks less to their quality than to how broadly unmemorable the rest of this Vacation is. If ever there was a movie to wrap presents to - a film so sketchily constructed as to actively benefit from incomplete attention - this would be it. With lockdown restrictions easing, they may let you take scissors and Sellotape into the Everyman this weekend. Either way, its comedy now appears oddly neutered, encapsulated by Chase's sputtering incoherence when faced with an attractive shopgirl. The Ridgemont High-referencing fantasy she later inspires is, much like Clark Griswold's last-reel chainsaw wrangling, trace evidence of an impulse a work this mainstream knows it can't really act upon. In place of comic transgression, we get passive-aggressive slapstick that looks like Hughes limbering up for the following year's Home Alone. Those of us with a low tolerance for stress in comedies will find the extended sequence in which Clark staples fairy lights to the roof of his home more agonising than amusing; worse follows when he over-waxes his sledge (sounds like a euphemism; isn't), though Chechik's artless green-screen inserts at least reassure us Chase wasn't in any immediate personal danger. When not being spottily funny, it's just plain sappy: Clark sobbing in front of old home movies isn't the last place where Hughes pauses the fun, like a charity insert in the Comic Relief live show, to insist the real meaning of Christmas is... family. Did the rowdy, horny brats of the late 1970s really grow up this quickly, and this lamely? What they left behind, in this instance, was throwaway, self-pitying boomer crap that proves semi-enlightening to revisit, if only to demonstrate that a) Hughes was never the godhead of modern screenwriting some still maintain, and b) how easily entertained our forefathers must have been. (The grand finale involves a dog-versus-squirrel chase.) Basic cable rotation may have hoodwinked our American chums into considering this some endlessly rewatchable seasonal classic; in return, we might consider exporting one of those feature-length Christmas TV specials starring Lee Mack and Mark Addy as warring neighbours.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday, and is available to stream via Prime Video. With thanks to The Celluloid Sorceress (@SorceressOfFilm) for the correction.