See It Instead
New movies are a dime a dozen…old movies a penny a million. There’s so much cinema out there, sometimes it just makes sense to scratch that itch by seeing some of the best movies ever made instead of gambling your weekend funds on the latest releases. See It Instead hopes to point you in the right direction, giving you three films that share themes, stars, or genres with a big time release, all for the low low price of your already impressive (and bought and paid for!) streaming library!
Being summer vacation month, this week we’ve decided to take apart a new release, the successor to the “National Lampoon Vacation” series and focus on one key aspect: the star. Chevy Chase has become pretty universally reviled for his boorish behavior and his lackluster out-put. Kind of like Adam Sandler, just without all of the marijuana to blame. Believe it or not, there was a time when Chevy was a god amongst comedians, signing million dollar deals and delivering some of the funniest comedies ever made. Here, we play devil’s advocate and give you three Chevy Chase movies to watch in lieu of the awful sequel/reboot to the Vacation series.
Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms,) the heir apparent to the Griswold curse of never having a happy family outing, decides to relive old glory by taking his own family to Wally World, the happiest place on Earth. Despite his childhood experience filled with death and comic mayhem, Rusty and his wife (Christina Applegate) opt to engage in a road trip across country to reach the fabled land of joy and rickety roller coasters. The trip, as you would expect, does not go as planned.
Vacation does not even rise to the level of nostalgic farce. Despite Helms and Applegate being two truly likable comedians, the film quickly devolves into puerile and mean-spirited comedy. By comedy, this film means the worst of the internet/Family Guy definition: we mention a thing that you remember as having existed, and that is the whole joke. It is a crass cash-in on the brand name, despite not having the back-bone to use that brand name… or maybe National Lampoon has finally decided to stop whoring its name out to gross-out comedies. My goodness, that would be a first. Here instead are three comedies by family scion, Chevy Chase, that actually pass the sniff test.
The Serious Pick: National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is the head-strong and clueless head of the Griswold tribe. Every year he subjects his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo,) daughter Audrey, and son Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) to a disastrous summer vacation. This year, he has his heart set on Wally World, a theme park in California, that boasts itself as the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Despite his families urgent pleas to take a plane, he decides to take a road trip, reconnecting with far-flung members of the Griswold family as they make their way cross-country to their ill-fated destination.
Chevy Chase actually leverages his ability to induce hatred in this film. He is bull-headed and narcissistic, and constantly puts his long suffering family in harms way just to sate his appetite for Americana. Despite how sympathetic his family is, you root for Clark to get into more trouble, just to see him pay the price for his foolishness. Another aspect of this film that makes it a classic is that it is jam-packed with talent. Director Harold Ramis (Groundhogs Day, Ghostbusters franchise, anything involving Bill Murray) knows his comedy, and his comedians. Every bit role is filled by A-Listers such as John Candy, Eugene Levy, Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill’s brother,) and even Randy Quaid (before he was a walking human trainwreck.) Despite Chevy’s name on the marquee, this film is an ensemble piece and shows a masters eye for comedic talent and timing. This film is great fun and almost warrants the endless sequels it created.
The Lighthearted Pick: Three Amigos (1986)
Three washed up actors from the silent era try to regain their lost glory as the Three Amigos, cowboy heroes for hire who bring justice to the lawless regions of Mexico. After they are canned from their long running series (for becoming vain, greedy, and silly) the three Hollywood big shots (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short) receive a telegram from a desperate town south of the border: they will be paid handsomely if they travel to Santa Poco and “put on a show” against the ruthless desperado El Guapo. The poor townspeople have seen the Three Amigos and think they are real gunfighters…and the foolish Three Amigos have seen the promise of money and think this is an offer to film another western movie. All involved soon realize they are in over their heads when real bullets (real bullets!) start to fly.
If you haven’t seen this movie, you haven’t lived. This is probably one of the best comedies made in the 1980’s, starring the three biggest comedians from that era. This film is the comedic equivalent of The Expendables! Steve Martin is the cock-sure and clueless leader, Martin Short is the hyper-active worry wort, and Chevy Chase is the bumbling but lovable dolt at the heart of the trio. Each comedian manages to play the best version of their own persona, and each is the source of tons of laughs. While Steve Martin often steals the show, his performance would be a pale imitation of his greatest hits without the input form the other two comedians. There isn’t a comedic misfire in this bandoleer of jokes.
The Unconventional Pick: Nothing But Trouble (1991)
A financial big-wig (Chevy Chase) attempts to impress a high-powered lawyer (Demi Moore) by taking her on a scenic trip to pick up two fabulously rich but morally bankrupt clients. Along the way, they become lost, and when Chevy blows a stop sign, they are arrested in the Podunk town of Valkenvania, which is apparently inhabited and staffed by only members of the Valkenhaiser family, an inbred and vindictive clan that blames outside forces, especially financiers, for their clan’s slide into obscurity. Like a physics 101 student, Chevy quickly learns that everyone is relative, and his must try to make his way into the family if he and his company is going to escaped Judge Alvin (Dan Aykroyd) and his one-size-fits-most legal remedy: The Bonestripper, a ghoulish roller-coaster that will take all the flesh off your bones.
This film has received a ton of hate…which I can completely understand. It was a vanity project of Dan Aykroyd’s, based on a personal experience (though we hope not the Bonestripper!) which quickly spiraled out into an unmanageable comedy. For all that…it’s pretty damn fun in places. It has some of the demented charm as Beetlejuice or the Addams Family, plus a ton of talent. Aykroyd and John Candy play multiple roles, as befitting a heavily inbred family, and they are all pretty fun. Candy lifts the lion share of the films likability, being at once both lovable and demented in each role he plays. Much like Haunted Honeymoon, the trope of famous comedians doing drag left many unimpressed, and the gross-out quotient of much of the prosthetic costumes (especially Aykroyd’s Judge) are turned up to eleven. That’s unfortunate, because the premise is genuinely novel, the talent is undeniable, and the film has some good moments. If you want a reason to see this film, then just consider that Digital Underground, featuring both Humpty Hump and Tupac Shakur, make a surprise cameo in this feature. That’s worth the price of admission alone!