Johnson Family Vacation DVD Review

For the most part, the National Lampoon "Vacation" series has been solid. The original is the classic family road trip movie and you can make a strong case for "Christmas Vacation" too. Though it's not associated with the National Lampoon in anyway, "Johnson Family Vacation" draws comparison simply because it recycles every single idea, resulting in a lifeless mess that is as incoherent as they come.

Cedric the Entertainer leads what, on paper at least, is a strong cast. Unfortunately, none of them is believable and as the movie drags on, things become more ridiculous. Those performances get even worse given the material. Completely wasted is Steve Harvey as Cedric's on-screen brother, providing the simply absurd finale.

The plot devices used to get them into the car in the beginning are tired and clichéd, meaning neither bookend of the movie is worthwhile. It tries multiple times to provide laughs and every single time it falls flat. It seems that with each subsequent scene, things take another turn towards the absurd, killing any believability the other "Vacation" films had.

There's no sense of pacing or editing either. Every time the scene changes, it feels like an entirely different movie. There's no cohesiveness to any of the scenes and plot points go completely unexplained. It's almost as if each cut could be the start of a new sitcom episode. This is the type of movie that without the big name stars, it would have either been dropped or ended up on video directly. (* out of *****)

The DVD from Fox Searchlight is arguably better than the movie. This is a two-sided disc, one side with the proper 2.35:1 transfer, the other butchered 1.33:1 pan & scan. This is a great looking movie on DVD, mostly because of the excellent color scheme. Everything is bright and cheery and that's maintained in this transfer. Compression is fine. Facial detail is outstanding for the most part, especially during scenes shot in daylight. The only complaint is some occasional aliasing, but that's usually minor. (****)

On the audio side, there's not as much to talk about. This is a quite movie and as such, everything resides in the front speakers. There are no more than two or three instances where the other speakers are used. Even then, they're wasted. Bass only comes into play during scenes featuring music. This is a 5.1 mix stuck in a movie that doesn't need it. (**)

Two commentary tracks start the extras set. Cedric, director Christopher Erskin, and the producers pack the first one. In the second, the lead writers take over. Don't bother with the writers, Todd and Earl Jones. They never seem to say anything. Actually, the same goes for the first track as well, but at least Cedric is entertaining.

Eighteen so called deleted and extended scenes are up next. A large number of these are actually outtakes, not cuts from the film. Each comes with a commentary from the director. "Johnson Family: Max on the Set" is your standard making-of, just selling the movie you just bought. The disc finishes on a whimper with a promo for Jimmy Fallon's bomb "Taxi," a promo for the soundtrack, a "Bill Cosby: Himself" trailer, and a commercial telling you not to do drugs. Really. (*)

At the very least, this isn't supposed to be a remake. That shows a little respect. Of course, with all the recycled ideas, there are times when that is questionable. Unless you have to have anything involving Cedric the Entertainer, there's no reason to have this movie taking up valuable shelf space.

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