JOHNSON FAMILY VACATIONPG-13
In addition to comic-book adaptations and teen romances starring Hilary Duff and/or Lindsay Lohan, one of the popular cinematic trends in Hollywood right now appears to be "urban" remakes of fondly remembered '80s comedies. Last December, Warner Bros. released Love Don't Cost a Thing, an update of 1987's Can't Buy Me Love with Nick Cannon in the Patrick Dempsey part. Later this spring, the comedy classic Airplane! will return to theatres in the guise of Soul Plane, starring Snoop Dogg. And now here's Johnson Family Vacation, an unofficial remake of the 1983 hit National Lampoon's Vacation, which gave Chevy Chase his signature role as doltish family man Clark Griswold.
In place of Chase we have Cedric the Entertainer as Nate Johnson, the put-upon patriarch of the Johnson clan. Where Clark was always a bit of a loon underneath his happy-go-lucky exterior, Nate is a relatively benign father figure. Of course, that doesn't make his family life any more tranquil. For the past three months, he's been separated from his wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams), who moved down the street with their two daughters Nikki (Solange Knowles) and Destiny (Gabby Soleil) in tow. Nate still lives with their son DJ (Bow Wow), a rapper-in-training who has grown into an expert at driving his dad crazy. Despite the estrangement, Nate forces the entire family to make the cross-country pilgrimage to his hometown in Missouri for his mother's annual reunion.
Naturally, things start to go wrong the moment they hit the interstate. On the way to Missouri, the Johnsons encounter a crazy hitchhiker (Shannon Elizabeth), overly zealous police officers, and a variety of automobile mishaps. But the real trouble begins once they finally arrive at their destination and Nate confronts Max (Steve Harvey), his brother and longtime rival for Mom's affections.
Although they haven't aged particularly well, the Vacation movies are still fun to watch, if only for their unapologetically ribald humor. Johnson Family Vacation is considerably less risqu; in the hopes of reaching a wider audience, the filmmakers have dialed down the frat-boy antics and in-your-face sexuality that are the hallmarks of most contemporary road movies. There's certainly nothing wrong with trying to make a comedy that adults and kids can watch together. The problem is, Johnson Family Vacation isn't very funny. Too many jokes fall flat and a number of promising set-ups--including a pit stop at one of those garish roadside family restaurants--wind up going nowhere.
It was also a mistake to cast Cedric, who is at his funniest when he's being loud and obnoxious, as a more straightlaced character. The comedian handles his first starring role with aplomb, but you can tell that he's dying to cut loose from the "regular guy" routine. (The filmmakers oblige by giving him a second--and much funnier--role as an eccentric elderly relative.) The rest of the cast goes through the motions adequately enough, but none of them puts in much effort. Even Harvey seems to be on autopilot here, and when two self-proclaimed Kings of Comedy fail to generate any laughs together, you know they're coasting. The same can be said of this pokey and dull road trip.