The Films of John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein
Vacation (September 1/15)
A depressingly wrongheaded followup, Vacation follows an adult Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) as he attempts to recreate his family's ill-fated trek to Walley World with his wife (Christina Applegate's Debbie) and two sons (Skyler Gisondo's James and Steele Stebbins' Kevin) - with problems naturally ensuing as the Griswolds encounter a whole host of oddball characters and bizarre circumstances on the way. Filmmakers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein have infused Vacation with an almost aggressively episodic narrative that grows more and more problematic as time progresses, as the movie suffers from a hit/miss ratio that is, to an increasingly palpable extent, far more miss than hit and it does consequently become awfully difficult to work up any genuine interest in the protagonists' continuing exploits. Helms' unabashedly broad performance vacillates wildly between amusing and obnoxious, and it's worth noting, too, that many of the film's periphery players fare surprisingly poorly. (This is especially true of Chris Hemsworth's hopelessly unfunny cameo as Rusty's conceited brother in law.) The misguided atmosphere reaches a head with the obligatory Chevy Chase appearance, as the wholly ineffective nature of this sequence is indicative of everything that's wrong with the entire production (ie it's all just so unnecessary). By the time the climactic brawl rolls around, Vacation has cemented its place as the worst of the National Lampoon's Vacation sequels - which is no small feat, certainly, given this franchise's penchant for erratic entries.
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, Game Night follows a group of friends (Jason Bateman's Max, Rachel McAdams' Annie, Billy Magnussen's Ryan, Sharon Horgan's Sarah, Lamorne Morris' Kevin, and Kylie Bunbury's Michelle) as they agree to participate in an interactive murder mystery arranged by Kyle Chandler's Brooks - with violence and mayhem ensuing after it becomes clear that some of the evening's occurrences aren't part of the planned game. Filmmakers Daley and Goldstein have infused Game Night with a very slick, very fast-paced sensibility that is, at the outset, impossible to resist, with the compulsively watchable vibe heightened by a series of uniformly affable performances. (In addition to the various stars, the movie boasts scene-stealing appearances by folks like Michael C. Hall, Chelsea Peretti, and, in a performance that remains a consistent highlight, Jesse Plemons.) It's fairly disappointing to note, then, that the film segues into a palpably erratic midsection littered with ineffective, misguided sequences (eg Max's bloody exploits within a neighbor's home), and there's little doubt, too, that the second act's emphasis on the characters' tedious efforts at figuring out what's going on, in addition to stymieing the movie's momentum, contributes heavily to the less-than-enthralling atmosphere. By the time the picture arrives at its admittedly (and comparatively) electrifying final stretch, Game Night has certainly confirmed its place as a seriously uneven comedy that nevertheless boasts enough positive attributes to warrant a mild recommendation.