Film Review: Vegas Vacation (1997)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1997
Directed by: Stephen Kessler
Written by: Elisa Bell, Bob Ducsay
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Joel McNeely
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Ethan Embry, Marisol Nichols, Wayne Newton, Wallace Shawn, Miriam Flynn, Christie Brinkley, Julia Sweeney, Siegfried & Roy, Toby Huss, Sid Caesar, Jerry Weintraub

Jerry Weintraub Productions, National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t know when to quit, do ya Griswold? Here’s an idea: Why don’t you give me half the money you were gonna bet? Then, we’ll go out back, I’ll kick you in the nuts, and we’ll call it a day!” – Marty

While this is the National Lampoon’s Vacation movie that most people like the least, it’s actually my favorite. In fact, I think I like these movies in the exact opposite order of the general consensus.

Now I didn’t realize that this was my favorite until I just watched it because I hadn’t seen it since the ’90s and well, a lot of things didn’t leave big impressions on me then because I was too busy chasing girls, smoking things and drinking things.

Anyway, I did remember thinking that this version of Audrey Griswold was gorgeous and I’m glad to see that I was right. I also thought Marisol Nichols was good in the role and brought something new to it but then again, one of the in-jokes of this series is that the kids are recast with every film and there isn’t much of an effort in trying to keep those roles consistent. I also like that the film poked fun at this by having Clark admit that he doesn’t recognize his own kids.

I think that the role of Rusty has been mostly consistent, though. I really liked seeing Ethan Embry get the opportunity to step into the somewhat iconic role, as he was emerging as a top young talent at the time and I pretty much like him in everything.

Plus, Rusty’s story was my favorite in the film and I found the gags pertaining to his side quest to be pretty good. I also liked Jerry Weintraub, one of the film’s producers, playing the part of an older gambling legend that takes Rusty under his wing. This was just good, amusing shit all around.

Beverly D’Angelo’s Ellen spent the movie smitten with Wayne Newton and honestly, I enjoyed this too, especially getting to see Newton play a fictional, over-the-top, womanizing version of himself.

Chevy Chase’s Clark was more chill than he normally is, which I actually found refreshing as his antics can grow tiring by the end of the film. In this, he just wanted to spend time with his family, who were all off doing their own things.

Clark also gets his own side plot where he develops a rivalry with a Vegas dealer played by the always stupendous Wallace Shawn. In fact, outside of The Princess Bride, this may be his best character.

I guess what I like about this so much is the same thing I like about European Vacation and that’s seeing each character go off and have their own adventure and story arc. Granted, I like seeing these characters come together, and they always do, but the multiple plot threads, weaving in and out, is just more entertaining and keeps the movie flowing at a good pace.

Vegas Vacation has an unfair, bad rap for some reason. Sure, it came out after a long hiatus in the series and is the only picture of the original four that didn’t come out in the ’80s. With that, the formula was stale by 1997. However, seeing it, nearly twenty-five years removed from its release, it isn’t bad and it fits well within the series and has the right sort of spirit.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Film Review: Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)

Also known as: The Party (working title)
Release Date: June 12th, 1998
Directed by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Written by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Music by: David Kitay
Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry, Charlie Korsmo, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Robert Jayne, Michelle Brookhurst, Chris Owen, Jason Segel, Clea Duvall, Jaime Pressly, Sean Patrick Thomas, Freddy Rodriguez, Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Marisol Nichols, Jenna Elfman (uncredited), Jerry O’Connell (uncredited), Melissa Joan Hart (uncredited), Breckin Meyer (uncredited), Jennifer Elise Cox (uncredited)

Tall Trees Productions, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know about you, but I really believe that there’s one person out there, and for me it’s gotta be Amanda.” – Preston

I didn’t see this right when it came out, as it was a year after I had graduated high school and also because there were already dozens of similar movies that I had watched from the ’80s and ’90s, growing up.

I first saw this when it hit regular television but once I did, I thought it had a lot of heart while also having that heart in the right place. Sure, this is nothing new for the coming-of-age teen comedy subgenre but it’s hard not to like the main characters and their multiple story arcs.

Honestly, it also doesn’t hurt that this movie has a pretty stacked cast and even if most of these kids weren’t stars when this came out, they started to become them by the time I saw this.

The vast majority of the movie takes place in one location, a big ass house party. There are some school scenes early on but the bulk of the story takes place over one night.

To sum up the primary plot, the male lead has been in love with the female lead since his freshman year. But now that they’re graduating and the girl and her boyfriend split, this guy has one last chance to try and win her over.

Beyond that plot, the rest of the kids are dealing with the fact that high school is over and they have no idea what’s going to happen now that their lives are starting. The party is there as a way to blow off steam and distract them from the inevitable future but they all learn a lot about themselves over the course of the night.

There’s too many characters to feature for any great length and the two leads take up the bulk of the running time but each story is pretty enjoyable and endearing. I think there’s actually things that people can relate to with all of them, as they all share their own versions of doubt, insecurity and fear over what’s next.

Can’t Hardly Wait also feels a lot more like an ’80s teen movie than a ’90s one despite the music and fashion in the film. It just has that ’80s vibe to it and it’s easy to tell that the filmmakers were inspired by those movies and drawing from them.

That being said, this kind of feels like the last film of that subgenre of comedy. Sure, there were others after this but none of them are all that memorable, except for Not Another Teen Movie, which was a parody of this subgenre and kind of exposed all the tropes, making it hard to follow with another picture of this type.

In the end, the boy gets the girl and we leave these characters in a pretty positive way. Granted, the jock’s future isn’t all that promising but he went from dick to nice guy back to dick and well… karma is a bitch.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies, specifically of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Empire Records (1995)

Also known as: Rock & Fun, Empire (working titles)
Release Date: September 22nd, 1995 (limited)
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Written by: Carol Heikkinen
Music by: various artists
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Maxwell Caulfield, Debi Mazar, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, Coyote Shivers, James ‘Kimo’ Willis, Brendan Sexton III, Ben Bode

Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., 90 Minutes, 107 Minutes (Special Extended Edition)

Review:

“We mustn’t dwell… no, not today. We can’t. Not on Rex Manning Day.” – Mark

Empire Records was not a hit when it came out in theaters but it had a pretty limited release and when it did expand into more theaters, it still didn’t get into a lot of them. In fact, I never even heard of the movie until it came out on VHS in 1996 while I was working at a video store. I checked it out and liked it but I never imagined that it was something that many people would see or that would gain a pretty good cult following.

I think that it resonated with me because I was the same age as the characters, I worked in a video store and a music store and it felt a bit more like an ’80s teen comedy, which were movies I grew up on and had an impact on me as a kid.

Sure, the film is pretty hokey and very goofy but with that it has a lot of charm and an innocence about it, even if it delves into some more serious subject matter. At it’s core, it just follows a day in the life of an indie record store but it is a well crafted coming of age movie.

It is almost fantasy in how it is presented and in that way, it kind of reminds me of Clerks. They’re not even close from a tonal sense but both movies cram a bunch of crazy stuff into a single work day in a way that isn’t realistic but works for these type of films because all of these things could actually happen, just not on a single day.

The acting isn’t great but this does feature some people that would go on to have pretty good careers. It also stars Anthony LaPaglia as the only real adult in the film and the glue that keeps things together and a bit more grounded than the film would be without him.

I can’t say that this has aged well and maybe I still like it because of the power of nostalgia but it’s just a great film to throw on, once in awhile, when you need to be taken back to a simpler time and a simpler life before being buried in adult problems and worries.

I also love how musical it is and how fun it is. You actually do care about these characters and you want a happy ending for all of them. Because they’re all just kids and most of us have been where they are.

Plus, without this film, we never would’ve had Rex Manning Day.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies of the ’90s.

Film Review: Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Release Date: July 24th, 1998
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Scott Rosenberg
Music by: Mark Snow
Cast: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, William Sadler, Bruce Greenwood, Steve Railsback, Katharine Isabelle, Ethan Embry

Village Roadshow Pictures, Beacon Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Meet the musical little creatures that hide among the flowers.” – Betty Caldicott

My, god, man… look at that poster. It’s such a ’90s cliche. But then so is this entire movie.

I saw this in the theater way back in 1998 on a date. She picked the movie but I agreed, even though I thought this looked like teeny bopper pop horror bullshit. Luckily, horror hadn’t completely turned to shit by 1998 but I also had no idea that it would get so bad. But this film, in retrospect, showed me that the writing was on the wall for the sterilization of the horror genre. I probably saw the trends then but also didn’t think it could get much worse. A few years later, everything went PG-13 and theaters were full of middle schoolers screaming over half assed jump scares and CGI ghost arms.

This film’s plot is incredibly derivative. It borrows ideas from The Stepford WivesVillage of the DamnedChildren of the Corn and a bunch of other similar pictures. Basically, what you have is a town full of teens being brainwashed out of being angsty, rebellious youth. Okay, maybe it’s like Footloose where religion is replaced by science and dancing is replaced by sex and drugs. It’s also hard to ignore the narrative similarities to the much more recent and super successful Get Out. But that’s obviously not this film’s fault, as it predates Get Out by 19 years.

Anyway, a lot of horror is derivative. There isn’t a whole lot of innovation in the genre but that’s fine. Those of us who love horror don’t care so much about ideas being recycled, as long as it gives us something with a new twist or a new perspective. This film doesn’t really do that though.

I still find it enjoyable to watch however, in that sort of late night, nothing to do, mindless fun as I puff on a joint and drink painkillers (the cocktail not the pills from my Uncle Terry’s medicine cabinet).

This follows that mid-to-late ’90s trend where instead of populating a horror film with mostly unknowns, we get a studio trying to wedge in as many hot, trendy, TV teen actors as possible. This one unites Katie Holmes of Dawson’s Creek, James Marsden from the short lived Second Noah and Nick Stahl, who wasn’t a TV darling but was a young, hot commodity at the time. You also get Ethan Embry and Katharine Isabelle, both of whom had blossoming careers at the time. But you have to have a good veteran to kind of steer the ship in these sort of movies and that man was the always enjoyable William Sadler. Sadler was the best part about this picture.

One thing I like about the film is the tone. It had a ’90s grunge/industrial look, which was popular in the music videos of that decade. But also like ’90s music videos, it used overzealous editing techniques that made the movie a bit of a headache to watch for 83 minutes.

Speaking of which, 83 minutes?! Really? This film was so short and really, it could have been fleshed out a bit more. Would it have hurt to develop these characters more and enhance the story for an extra ten to fifteen minutes? This thing goes by like a flash and you don’t really feel connected to any of it.

Also, what’s the deal with that “shocking” ending? It makes no sense and I’m not sure what it was supposed to convey. Okay, one of the brainwashed kids survived and he’s a substitute teacher in a rough school. So does he have the ability to brainwash these kids? I mean, the evil doctor died. Did he program his minions with the knowledge of his work? It was a cheap attempt at trying to be surprising and clever and it was neither of those things. Maybe it was there to setup a pointless sequel with terrible writing that wouldn’t have been able to explain the asinine twist.

Disturbing Behavior definitely isn’t a bad time but it isn’t a great time either. It’s watchable, it’s enjoyable, it’s barely fun though. But I almost forgot how cute Katie Holmes was back in the day before Tom Cruise hid her away in a cave somewhere for like a decade.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The FacultyTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.