Nothing signals the beginning of the holiday season to Midwesterners of a certain age (younger than the senior discount at McDonald's, older than the free Wi-Fi) like the 1989 film "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
For irrefutable proof, look no further than the current Old Navy holiday commercial that features the original cast re-enacting scenes from the film. Or, if you would like a second reference, I submit my Facebook feed and the more than three dozen #GriswoldFamilyTree status updates it has generated since Thanksgiving.
To a Midwesterner, "Christmas Vacation" is the film equivalent of white people hearing Journey's "Don't Step Believing" at a wedding: You know all of the words, even if you thought you didn't, from a lifetime of ambient exposure.
But did you know that there was a sequel to this beloved Christmas classic? (Not "National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation" — although, technically, that would also be correct — but rather a direct sequel to "Christmas Vacation," which itself was a sequel to the original "Vacation" and "European Vacation," making this film the first sequel to the power of two.)
How do the films hold up?
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"
Plot: Clark Griswold, buffoon patriarch of the Griswold family, tries to survive the holidays and host the perfect family Christmas while his kooky extended family descends upon his homestead.
Verdict: It is what it is. During the early days of "Saturday Night Live," Chevy Chase and Bill Murray got into a huge fight backstage before a show, and Murray famously insulted Chase by calling him "medium talent."
With that in mind, this film was built around Chase and shares much of his comedic sensibilities: Namely, it's broad and hammy. The script by John Hughes — godfather of the teen comedy genre — moves along at a brisk pace, contains a few time-tested sight gags, some legitimately quotable dialogue and just enough schmaltz sprinkled throughout to earn its status as a Christmas movie. Every year, I come back to find this film pretty much the same as I left it.
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure"
Plot: After losing his job as a scientific test subject, Cousin Eddie is bitten on the rear end by a vengeful monkey co-worker and receives an all-expenses-paid tropical vacation as compensation. But don't let that synopsis fool you into thinking this is a masterpiece.
Verdict: If you're like me, you found out "Christmas Vacation" had a sequel when you spotted it in the $5 DVD bin at Wal-Mart. However, you could not, in good conscience, bring yourself to purchase it, having been burned one too many times by the Wal-Mart $5 DVD bin (and by National Lampoon, no less: 1994's "Last Resort," starring the Two Coreys at the height of their irrelevancy, haunts your DVD collection like a cold sore).
The National Lampoon banner once commanded some sort of respect, but by the time "Christmas Vacation 2: Uncle Eddie's Island Adventure" was released in 2003, it served as more of a warning label. These days, only the phrase "Starring Tom Arnold" brings less credibility to a film project.
The humor in the sequel is even broader than in the original. It's like a Reluctant Townie column, only way longer and exactly as funny. Witness a scene in which Cousin Eddie obliviously carries a farting dog through an airport terminal while everyone around him retches.
Or this exchange:
Cousin Eddie: Hey, look at those people down there. They look like ants.
Cousin Eddie's Son: Those ARE ants, Dad. The plane hasn't taken off yet.
That is about the standard of quality for the entire film. I felt waves of embarrassment ripple through me whenever Eric Idle, Ed Asner or Fred Willard appeared onscreen. The only legitimate excuse for their association with this substandard enterprise is that they wanted to finance their own personal island adventure.
(Although I am sure with the check they pocketed from this shoestring production, the closest they got to an island adventure was a used Tommy Bahama shirt at Plato's Closet.)
After a half an hour of watching "Christmas Vacation 2," I checked my watch and found that it had only been 11 minutes. Brutal. If you're looking to extend your holiday celebrations, this is certainly one way to get that accomplished.
On a related note, Randy Quaid, the actor who portrays Cousin Eddie in the "Vacation" movies, infamously went rogue a couple years back and is currently living off the grid in motel rooms/his car for reasons that allegedly involve tax evasion and a self-described Hollywood conspiracy to end his life.
(If that last part turns out to be true, I bet the conspirators motive will involve having been trapped in a cruise ship cabin with "Christmas Vacation 2" stuck on a never-ending loop.)
Clearly, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure" is a perfect movie. To give to someone you hate. Gift wisely.
Ryan Jackson prefers "Christmas Vacation 2" to whatever sequel they make next, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.