Hughes Day Tuesday: ‘Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure’ (2003) has some cheer, but few laughs (Movie review)


he most interesting thing about “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure” (2003) is that it exists. Impress your friends with the trivia: Yes, there is a sequel to “Christmas Vacation” (1989). It went straight-to-TV and premiered on NBC, the second of three films in the series (along with “Vegas Vacation” and 2015’s “Vacation”) made without John Hughes.

The idea of making this movie isn’t as dumb as it might seem, because bringing Randy Quaid’s iconic idiot to a South Pacific island for holiday mishaps could theoretically be funny. But the movie lacks a funny screenplay. Writer Matty Simmons, who was a producer on previous “Vacation” films and who died earlier this year, knows the characters, but not how to write funny gags.

I smiled a fair amount at Quaid’s committed shtick but only laughed a few times – mainly because Quaid sells everything as best he can. For example, he mistakes ants on the runway for “people who look like ants,” not realizing the plane hasn’t taken off yet — lines that make you smile and appreciate Eddie’s stupidity, but that aren’t fulfilling.

As the narrative slogs from Audrey’s (Dana Barron, returning from the 1983 “Vacation”) Chicago home to a plane trip to a boat trip to a desert island, we get a series of little premises. Eddie haplessly hunts wild boar with a spear, Uncle Nick (Ed Asner) leers and makes passes at tour guide Muka Laka Miki (Sung Hi Lee) … that sort of thing. And Eddie’s dog, Snots, farts a lot, and Eddie can’t get Muka’s name right.

That brings up the question of whether “European” is still the worst entry in the series. It’s a close call.

It’s nice to see Barron again; she grew up to be a cutie and it’s odd she didn’t act more. Audrey has a mildly amusing arc of being lovesick and attracted to a seaplane pilot (Julian Stone). The bikini-clad Muka is easy on the eyes, too, but I feel bad for Lee and Asner that they have to repeat the dirty-old-man bit so many times. At least Simmons and director Nick Marck (who has helmed episodes of many great TV shows, from “Buffy” to “Veronica Mars”) eventually tire of the gag.

Cameos, interesting casting and references to the other films provide mild pleasures. Jake Thomas from “Lizzie McGuire” plays Third, the Johnsons’ lone smart kid (the other five took after Eddie’s side of the family, Miriam Flynn’s Catherine explains). We’re reminded that the not-present Vicki is a successful stripper in Vegas, a rare bit of continuity for this series. And Eric Idle returns from “European Vacation” for more pratfalls.

That brings up the question of whether “European” is still the worst entry in the series. It’s a close call. That one has more laughs but you feel the length … but it does have the full Griswold clan. Still, adding the Griswolds wouldn’t save “Christmas Vacation 2” if the screenplay was still terrible.

It has a smidgen of Christmas cheer, with songs and décor, and we only have to put up with it for 83 minutes; in that sense, it’s not a lump of coal. But it is flat, and that makes it the weakest of the saga. It’s better as a trivia answer than as an experience: Yes, “Christmas Vacation 2” does exist, but you’re better off with a Jelly of the Month Club subscription.

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