‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989) Review

Many of the holiday movies we consider classics or cult favorites today did not seem destined for such glory when we first reviewed them. Some we panned. Others were flops. Others just weren’t particularly holiday-focused.

We dug up 10 of those reviews from our archives, which we’ve rounded up here, along with info on where to stream them. Below is how the critic Janet Maslin reviewed “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” for The New York Times on Dec. 1, 1989:

When Chevy Chase finds a good way to hurt himself in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” he generally tries it more than once. The board that whacks him in the chin is liable to strike again. Floors will collapse, ladders fall, Christmas trees come hurtling through windows. The film’s penchant for breakage jokes is rivaled only by its taste for gross-out humor, and for the kinds of double-entendres best appreciated by 7-year-old boys. One extended comedy routine involves the panic caused by a runaway squirrel.

[Read about 9 more classic and cult Christmas movies as The Times first reviewed them.]

Fatigue is in the air. This third look at the quintessentially middle-American Griswold family, led by Clark (Mr. Chase) and the very patient Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) is only a weary shadow of the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” which found a lot to laugh at as it followed the dopey paterfamilias Clark and his quarrelsome brood on a hellish cross-country journey in their station wagon. The new film does little more than reintroduce these familiar characters (with new actors playing the children, who would otherwise be college age by now) and let them get on one another’s nerves in earnest.

The screenplay for “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” by John Hughes, makes no pretense at being anything other than a disjointed collection of running gags; if it weren’t for a calendar that marks the approach of Christmas Day, the film would have no forward momentum at all. The film also looks tacky, what with flimsy props and occasionally blurry cinematography, and the direction by Jeremiah S. Chechik displays comic timing that is uncertain at best. In spite of all this, however, the Griswolds do occasionally have their moments.

The best thing the new film does is to bring back Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), the wily, scene-stealing slob whose disgusting habits are a source of considerable amusement. There is also a good deal of funny seasonal kitsch, like the reindeer cups (complete with antlers) from which Clark and Eddie quaff their eggnog. Also on hand are a number of curious actors, like William Hickey and Mae Questel as a pair of elderly relatives, who don’t do much but make the film more interesting than it otherwise might be. Miss Questel, the model for Betty Boop, provides a very Booplike rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Rent it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is rated PG-13 (“Special Parental Guidance Suggested for Those Younger Than 13”). Running time: 97 minutes.

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