Johnson Family Vacation Blu-ray Review
Ever since the 1983 release of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION, additions to the “family comedy” genre are held to a pretty high standard. Some will borrow aspects from the legendary R-rated classic in terms of protagonist traits or character arcs, other films try to up the ante on shock value and then there are the screenplays that simply “plug and play” different actors into the Chevy Chase and company roles, give a twist to the culture and some environments and slap a brand new title on the poster … enter JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION.
Nate Johnson (Cedric the Entertainer, BE COOL) is a Los Angeles insurance executive that wants to bring some much needed unity to his overly independent family members. To achieve this he drags them all on a road trip to a family reunion in Missouri in hopes that the close proximity will help them all bond and even win the reunion trophy for “best family.” What Nate doesn’t count on are the numerous pitfalls and obstacles awaiting them on their journey.
JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION is not exactly trying to win anyone over with an original story, exceptional plot points or character development. Any viewer that has even the most elementary knowledge of films can see how this screenplay will unfold from the onset of the opening credits. And that would be fine since the only genre of film allotted that kind of conspicuousness is comedy, however to be so devoid on one end of the spectrum would necessitate for an ample amount of outright hilarity on the other. Unfortunately for JOHNSON FAMILY VACTATION, the “gags” aren’t nearly as poignant or clever as the writers and director think they are, and Cedric the Entertainer’s Nate Johnson is not even in the same stratosphere as Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold. Not just because the writing is a shell of the caliber from Chase’s films, but because Cedric the Entertainer’s wheelhouse is regulated only to supporting characters. He does not have the type of charisma to turn a mundane or even bad piece of dialogue into something workable through a simple voice inflection or facial nuance like great comedic actors such as Chase, Murphy, Murray or the late Bernie Mac (OCEAN’S ELEVEN), who could take this exact same script and turn the proverbial comedy dial from a 3 to a 6 with the use of his line delivery alone.
It also doesn’t help that Mr. the Entertainer doesn’t have much in way of a supporting cast to help carry some of the comedy burden. Nate’s older kids D.J. and Nikki, played by Bow Wow (LOTTERY TICKET) and Solange Knowles (BRING IT ON: ALL OR NOTHING) respectively, can’t muster up enough idiosyncratic charm to rival even the weakest incarnations of Rusty and Audrey from the “Vacation” series, and Vanessa Williams (SOUL FOOD) is imprisoned as Nate’s wife Dorothy, whose character is as lifeless as her and Nate’s relationship.
The only shred of a silver lining for JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION is that there seems to be some inexplicable urge to root for the characters to get funnier and the story to pull itself out of a belligerently cheap knockoff of one of the classic comedies of all time. But in the end, the only joke worth laughing at is the ironic 97 minutes spent failing to be entertained by someone with “Entertainer” in their name.
JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, 2.35:1 Widescreen: In trying to give this film some sort of redeeming quality, at least the HD transfer is for the most part serviceable. Sharpness is good without going overboard and color tone seems to be pretty accurate. A very fine grain keeps the film looking cinematic and away from the “camcorder” look. Black levels are a tad light and overall contrast could use a little more “pop.” There are also some scenes that go very “soft” for no apparent reason.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: Again, serviceable is about as high an adjective as this film should be allotted. It’s a comedy, so all it really needs is crisp, clear dialogue and a decent representation of ambience effects, which it does.
Commentary by Bow Wow, Cedric the Entertainer, Director Christopher Erskin and Producers Eric C. Rhone and Paul Hall: Your standard commentary where the cast and crew try to make the production process seem deeper than its end result. Just like the film, there are few laughs to be had and even less insight.
Writer’s Commentary with Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones: This commentary is from the writer’s point of view, which actually does provide some very revealing and very unintentional insight as to why the screenplay is so poorly written.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (24 min): These scenes weren’t even funny enough to make the final cut of this film, so spend the 24 minutes watching just about anything else on the planet.
Johnson Family Vacation: Max on Set (13 min): A studio polished “behind the scenes” featurette where all the cast and crew complement one another and speak about what a fantastic time they had making the film.