Vegas Vacation

Mandatory Rewind: ‘Vegas Vacation’ Is the Best Worst Movie of Chevy Chase’s Career

When you think of the Vacation franchise, Vegas Vacation isn’t the first film that comes to the forefront of people’s minds. The first Vacation film, which was adapted from a National Lampoon article written by legendary writer/director Johan Hughes, is undoubtedly a comedy classic. Then came the sequels, European Vacation in 1985 and Christmas Vacation in 1989, both of which are subpar to the original but were written by John Hughes. 8 long years later, Vegas Vacation was released as the fourth film in the franchise, but the first without Hughes of the National Lampoon names.

Upon its release in 1997, the Vegas Vacation was considered a critical and commercial failure. Critics called it “full of jokes that fall flat” and that it was a “trip not worth taking”. Even if European Vacation has something to say about being the worst entry in the franchise, Vegas Vacation was also the lowest-grossing entry, barely making its budget back. Suffice to say that, despite the latter’s flaws, Vegas Vacation has no right to be as funny as it is. And yet, 25 years later, the film remains notable for the simple fact that it marks the beginning of the end of Chevy Chase’s Hollywood career. 

While Vegas Vacation is often looked back upon as the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, that could be further from the truth. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, we’re looking at you. But imagine, for a moment, if we told you that Vegas Vacation was actually better than you remember it being. It’s obviously nowhere near the original in terms of pure quality, but dare I say that it’s not far behind Christmas Vacation in that same respect. Sure, the plot fo the film is basic, but that hasn’t been any different than the other movies. So what gives?

As opposed to the previous entries in the franchise, Vegas Vacation is more focused on gags than character development. It’s near slapstick-level comedy, so it feels more removed from the other films as well. Even if Vegas Vacation makes the mistake of trying to turn the franchise into a vehicle Chevy Chase, also is the first in the series to carry a PG rating. On the surface, this makes it feel out of line with the others. At the same time, the idea of the Griswalds taking a vacation to a very un-family friendly place is arguably the most Vacation thing ever. In terms of pure storytelling, this is sometimes successful and sometimes not.

On the flip side, part of the reason why Vegas Vacation holds up as well as it does is the fact that this is one vacation that only Clark wants to take. This is problematic in terms of the Chevy Chase element (more in that in a second), but many of the film’s most effective bits are drawn from the idea that this is a vacation that the rest of the family doesn’t want to go on. From the Nick Pappagorgio joke to the Wayne Newton segments, to the idea of Audrey becoming a go-go dancer — it’s all rooted in the idea of upending the tropes of a Vacation movie while also playing into them. Hell, even Randy Quaid is memorable here, which is something I’d never thought I would say outside of Independence Day

These simple, but memorable supporting characters such as Wallace Shaun’s blackjack dealer are one of the main reasons why the movie remains somewhat watchable. However, the biggest detriment to the longevity of Vegas Vacation is actually the legacy of Chevy Chase himself. In addition to Clark being irredeemable as a character in the film, Chase isn’t doing anything here that he hasn’t done before. The “beautiful woman in the convertible” is a great example of the way that the film recycles gags from the previous movies for no apparent reason, with nothing new to add. 

Art imitates life in this sense because as it turns out, Chevy Chasse is pretty much a terrible person in real life too. He makes some perplexing acting choices in the film, and the odd Sigfried & Roy sequence is another example of this. Ultimately, the problem with the movie is Chevy Chase, even if everything around him is really fun. For this reason, Vegas Vacation – while still funny – will probably be remembered as the best-worst movie of Chase’s filmography and a true turning point for the worst of his career.

Cover Photo: Warner Bros.


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