Johnson Family Vacation (August 15/04)
With a seemingly foolproof premise behind it, it's a wonder that Johnson Family Vacation crashes and burns as spectacularly as it does. Though there's plenty here to dislike, ultimately the film's failure must be laid at the feet of its star, Cedric the Entertainer. Johnson Family Vacation marks Cedric's first appearance as a leading man, and this much is clear - Cedric the Entertainer simply cannot act.
Given that he's previously tackled relatively tiny parts (ie Barbershop and Intolerable Cruelty), Cedric's less-than-stellar acting ability has been easy enough to overlook. But thrust into a starring role, Cedric attempts to compensate for his lack of talent by overacting - resulting in a completely annoying and grating performance. Like Bernie Mac before him, it's clear that Cedric's screen time should be limited to very small doses - if at all.
Johnson Family Vacation casts Cedric as Nate Johnson, a man separated from his wife but reuniting with her for a trip to a family reunion. Things get off to a bumpy start almost immediately, after Nate's new car has been tricked out by an inept grease monkey. Of course, the sleek ride thrills Nate's three kids - D.J. (Bow Wow), Nikki (Solange Knowles), and Destiny (Gabby Soleil) - who waste no time in taking advantage of its many amenities.
Like National Lampoon's Vacation before it, Johnson Family Vacation is comprised of comic vignettes that are loosely strung together by flimsy storyline. But where Vacation contained a number of genuinely funny sequences and a cast full of likable characters, Johnson Family Vacation presents us with one lame comedic scene after another - exacerbated by the uniformly horrible acting. Aside from Cedric's embarrassing "performance," Bow Wow and Knowles prove that they'd better not quit their day jobs. Vanessa Williams, playing Nate's long-suffering wife, does a fairly decent job, though that's hardly a compliment given the caliber of her costars.
The film's screenplay, by Todd Jones and Earl Richey Jones, certainly doesn't do the cast any favors, as it places the emphasis on comedic set pieces that just aren't funny. Worse that that, the majority of them come off as sloppy; it's as though director Christopher Erkin just assumed we'd be too busy laughing to take notice of such amateurishness. There's a great example of this towards the beginning of the film, in a sequence featuring Nate and D.J. arguing over whose music to listen to in the car. Both characters eventually take to throwing discs out the window, and neither seems terribly upset about it. Only in a film as terminally stupid as Johnson Family Vacation would characters behave this way (ie in a manner dictated by the plot), making it impossible to connect to any of these people.
At the core of any good comedy are characters that are likable and easy to relate to, something that's sorely lacking in Johnson Family Vacation. The whole thing seems to be an excuse for Cedric the Entertainer to do his thing, and unless you're willing to go with it, it's highly unlikely the film will come off as anything but an interminable 96 minutes.