Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 15, 2013)
After an eight-year break between films, the Vacation series resumed in 1997 with Vegas Vacation. Fourteen years following first flick, Vegas finds the Griswold family on the verge of another trip. Father Clark (Chevy Chase) gets a big bonus at work so he decides to take the clan to Las Vegas, where he wants to remarry wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo). They cart kids Rusty (Ethan Embry) and Audrey (Marisol Nichols) – still in their teens after all these years – off to Sin City for some fun and frolic.
A few subplots develop. As usual, Ellen’s cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) barges in on the Griswolds, and he spends some time with Clark, who whittles away the family’s savings on unsuccessful gambling. After he obtains a fake ID, Rusty starts to place bets himself, but with much more positive results. Audrey hangs out with her stripper cousin Vickie (Shae D’Lyn), while Ellen deals with the romantic overtures of an infatuated Wayne Newton (himself).
That’s not much of a plot, but it’s actually more complex than any of the prior Vacation flicks. Those movies simply presented various sketches connected together by the vague theme of “Clark wants the perfect holiday”. That element still appears in Vegas, but it branches out somewhat due to Clark’s gambling addition; he actively supports a split among the family members, which means that we don’t see his obsession in quite the same way.
Some may argue that detracts from the Vacation tradition, which it does, but I think it’s a welcome change. Each successive film got crummier and crummier, with fewer amusing or creative elements. Christmas Vacation enjoys a good reputation among fans, but I can’t figure out why; I think it provides a disjointed and unfunny mess.
I won’t call Vegas a classic, but honestly, I like it more than Christmas or European Vacation. Part of this comes from the fact it maintains an actual theme and offers more than just a conglomeration of gags.
The natural absurdity of the setting helps. Vegas is such a ridiculous place that it’s easy for comedy to spring from it. The movie utilizes those elements moderately well and gives us a few decent laughs. Though it’s now a little creepy to watch Siegfried and Roy with their tigers, that scene provides some nice moments.
Chase’s performance contributes as well. From the original through Christmas, he became more and more manic with each successive flick, so by Christmas, he turned into an inappropriately aggressive and broad presence.
Chase seems much more subdued with Vegas. Some may see that as a lack of effort on his part, but I think his calmer demeanor works better, as it helps accentuate the various gags. For once, it doesn’t feel like Chase is working relentlessly to entertain us, as he seems willing to let others horn in on the fun.
That connects to my favorite moments from Vegas: its guest stars. Wayne Newton isn’t much of an actor, but he shows a nice willingness to poke fun at himself. Julia Sweeney provides a quick but fun cameo, and Wallace Shawn makes the most of his running character as a sadistic blackjack dealer. Without question, Shawn’s bits are the best parts of Vegas. He’s lithe and funny and interacts nicely with Chase.
Add to that the sexiest Audrey of the four and Vegas Vacation provides a moderately amusing experience. More than a few parts of it fall flat; it includes some painful self-referential humor, and an extended bit at Hoover Dam fails. Nonetheless, it presents enough decent moments to make it watchable and sporadically entertaining.