State of the Art

‘Vacation’: When a critic has to walk out

The cast of “Vacation” searches for something funny to say or do, though in vain.
The cast of “Vacation” searches for something funny to say or do, though in vain. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

When I left the screening of “Vacation” after 35 minutes, the studio monitor politely asked, “Are you gonna review?” Nope. I’d have to sit through the entire film to do that. But I’m gonna explain.

Less than once a year – maybe 20 times since The Observer started paying me to cover movies in 1987 – I play the “get out of jail” card. I sometimes pass on screenings altogether, because I also cover theater, music and dance and don’t have time to see everything these days. If a movie looks like trash, I blow it off from the start.

But on rare occasions, I’m lured into a picture so degrading that I find myself twitching with rage. The “Vacation” trailer did make me smile a couple of times, and I’ve enjoyed Ed Helms in other things, so I gave it a try. After half an hour, it had become the worst movie I’ve seen this year. Rather than kill more brain cells, I vanished.

A reader once told me, “You have to stay. If a picture’s that bad, you have to warn the public.” I don’t buy that for two reasons.

First, if it’s as bad as I think, the mass of critics nationally will say so. (At last glance, three-fourths of them had panned “Vacation,” and the people who gave it more positive coverage were not enthused.) Second, if I’m off-base – if the movie’s better than I think, and I’m letting personal prejudice get in the way – my review could mislead readers.

But this is also true: You don’t need to eat a whole pot of stew if the first few bites make you want to barf. The first third of “Vacation” set me heaving.

Strike one: Helms’ character tripped and steadied himself by grabbing a stranger’s breasts.

Strike two: A predictable joke about an arm slammed in a car door got repeated immediately afterward. (This seemed to be the standard approach here.)

Strike three: An elementary school boy unleashed his potty mouth. This was last funny about the time Richard Nixon was president.

Strike four: A character chugged a pitcher of beer and stumbled around until projectile vomiting ensued.

Four strikes, and you’re out – or, rather, I’M out. There are some movies you literally cannot pay me to watch.

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