I can't count the number of times I've seen National Lampoon's "Vacation." Or at least the first hour of it.
Every year, the night before my family embarked on our annual summer road trip, my dad would stick our dubbed, edited-for-TV version of the 1983 Chevy Chase comedy in the VCR. We very seldom made it all the way to the end -- my dad generally conked out long before the Griswolds found their way to Wally World, and the rest of us were probably packing by then.
But I know the first hour of the movie by heart, basically -- even if it was the edited-for-TV version.
Which, by the way, was arguably more offensive than the original. Take, for example, the scene where the Griswold clan get lost in St. Louis. In the theatrical version, I later discovered, the pimp they approach for directions says, "Fuck yo mama!" But in the edited version, he says, "What I look like? Christopher Columbo?"
But hey -- it was 1983. That was 30 years ago! And for every instance of cultural tone-deafness, "Vacation" gave us a dozen immortal family-road-trip one-liners. Lines like: "Nothing worth doing is easy, Ellen, you know that," "Watch those freeways!," "You're the gourmet chef around here, Eddie," "Do you enjoy throwing up every five minutes, Clod?," "Aw, they used to, Russ," "Good talk, Russ," "This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun," and the poolside classic, "This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy!"
None of those lines may sound especially hilarious to a "Vacation" novice, but let me assure you -- they were screamingly funny to myself, ages 8 through 13, and the rest of my family as we repeated them and others while driving for days on end from our New Jersey home to Orlando, Myrtle Beach or Quebec City, Canada.
So the news that New Line is updating the "Vacation" franchise, with Ed Helms as a grown-up Rusty and -- if today"s report in The Hollywood Reporter pans out -- Christina Applegate as his wife and shotgun companion, has me feeling as anxious as a comic-book fan cautiously studying the IMDB page for the latest rumored Superman or Spider-Man adaptation.
It's not as if the "Vacation" franchise is sacred or anything -- the craptastic "Vegas Vacation" (1997) and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure" (2003) took care of that problem. But those films were mere afterthoughts to the glorious original and its first two not-bad sequels. ("Big Ben, kids! Parliament!") A reboot, however, raises two disturbing possibilities: it could be terrible in a whole new way that blots out our memory of the original, or it could be good in a way that invites a whole new group of fans into what has long felt like a cozy club.
No matter what, it won't be the same for me -- and not only because I don't take annual road trips with my family anymore. Eight-year-old boys are the world's leading experts in quoting corny lines from movies. Thirty-eight-year-old men, not so much. (Although if you've met some of my friends, you might beg to differ.) So even though I know I'll go see "New Vacation" when it comes out, I highly doubt I'll immediately regroup with my friends in the parking lot afterward and repeat as many lines as we can remember before our memories fade and we lose them forever. (Do kids still do this, now that the Internet exists? I hope so. Man, that was fun.)
There's another, bigger problem: John Hughes is no longer with us. The man who gave the world "The Breakfast Club," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the script for "Pretty in Pink" also wrote "Vacation" -- it was only his third feature -- and I'm sorry but there's no way anyone else can match the combination of biting humor and youthful innocence that he brought to this and so many other movies. I've recently had the experience of not enjoying a new film -- "The Spectacular Now," which debuted at Sundance and appeared again at this year's SXSW Film fest -- as much as I might have liked because someone had incautiously said it reminded them of a John Hughes movie. Instead of relaxing and enjoying the movie in front of me, I spent half the time thinking to myself, "John Hughes never would have written that line."
But don't let my ambivalence stop you from getting excited about a new "Vacation" movie. After all, even I can admit that Ed Helms has a very Griswoldian thing going on. He's a fine choice to play a latter-day Rusty. And, years after lighting up adolescent fantasies across the land as the naughty sister in "Married With Children," Christina Applegate has the same sexy-mama vibe that Beverly D'Angelo brought to the role of Ellen Griswold in the original movie.
Obviously, I hope D'Angelo and Chevy Chase turn up in the new movie -- though maybe not for too long. (If this recent Old Navy ad is any indication, Chase's Clark has morphed from a dopey but vaguely virile Big Daddy to an overstuffed ham sandwich.) But mostly I want great one-liners. I want great supporting actors -- Christie Brinkley, Randy Quaid, Eugene Levy, Brian Doyle-Murray, Imogene Coca and a teenaged Jane Krakowski were all wonderful in the original. And I want to be transported to a world where a man's best-laid plans always go awry -- but his family puts up with him anyway.