'National Lampoon's European Vacation' could be described as one of those rare sequels that's just as good as its predecessor. It's not exactly better, as I'm sure many would agree, but it's just as entertaining. Harold Ramis' 'Vacation' does offer a few more consistent laughs, but Amy Heckerling, working with another John Hughes script, turns in a movie equally funny and absurd. This time, the Griswolds invade Europe for another zany vacation in cars half the size of the Family Truckster. The director of other memorable comedies, like 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' 'Clueless,' and 'Look Who's Talking,' puts less emphasis on the slapstick and relies more on dialogue and language barriers for the comedy.
After accidentally answering the question in the final round of "Pig in a Poke," the Griswolds win an all-expenses-paid vacation across Europe. This of course allows for another road-trip feature with a series of amusing sketches, but rather than being a simple repeat of the previous movie, 'European Vacation' delivers an over-the-top farce on the clashes between nations. Everyone dressed as overstuffed pigs at the beginning sets the mood as an obvious but still funny jab at American consumerism. This turns out to be a reoccurring theme throughout as the family's cultural ignorance confronts European hospitality. The running gag with Eric Idle is also a part of this overarching joke.
As with the original, Chevy Chase is pretty much the main attraction, delivering stupidity like he were breathing. Next to 'Fletch,' it is simply amazing to watch Chase as Clark, delivering ridiculous lines with incredible seriousness and acting with such dad-knows-best smugness. The scene where the family is ordering French cuisine remains just as funny as ever, and I still laugh every time Clark tells the flight attendant he doesn't want his Coke in the can. It's one funny moment immediately followed by another from the SNL alum at his best. Only this time around, Chase shares the laughter with the rest of the family, giving them ample screen time and more character development. This is also the first where we see another popular hallmark of the 'Vacation' series: the son and daughter are roughly the same age, but the actors are always different.
Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) is finally reaching the breaking point with Clark's goofy arrogance. Not only does she find herself the unwitting star of an erotic movie, but she also tries to bring some sanity to her husband's persistent time schedule. Audrey (Dana Hill) is the typical teenage girl, obsessing about her looks. Two weeks away from her boyfriend, Jack (William Zabka), feels like an eternity, so she plaster's the walls of the hotel room with his pictures and racks up a high phone bill. I also vote we never talk about Jack. As for Rusty (Jason Lively), he's now a teenage boy, chock-full of hormones, and there's only one thing racing through his mind every few minutes. But every time it seems he's about to get lucky, Clark is gets caught in a fight-or-flight situation.
The only speed bump in this hilarious and steady trip across Europe is a chase-scene through the beautiful streets of Rome. It's not enough of a distraction to completely ruin the movie, but the sequence does feel a bit out of place. As if the filmmakers were fearful the story would be boring without some inexplicable action. Whatever the case may be, the Griswolds have undoubtedly left their destructive mark in Europe much the same way they did in America. While it may not match the success of its predecessor in equal measure, 'National Lampoon's European Vacation' continues the hilarity and absurdity with the bumbling silliness of the Griswolds.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'National Lampoon's European Vacation' lands on Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc in the standard blue eco-case. Just as with the first BD, the cover art is terribly ugly and unsightly. The Griswolds are waving to us with a mountain range in the background, and Chevy Chase as Clark is double the size of his family. Whoever preferred or decided this was more appealing than the original poster art needs their eyes checked. The disc goes straight to the main menu with the normal selection of options.
'National Lampoon's European Vacation' lands on Blu-ray with average and unimpressive video. To be perfectly honest, the picture quality is rather disappointing and quite poor compared to 'Vacation.' This fact is made even worse when considering the movie is actually celebrating its 25th anniversary (it was originally released in July 1985). It's clear the studio did not make any restoration efforts and have reverted to an older print for this 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.85:1) rather than creating a new HD master.
Colors are noticeably brighter, particularly primaries, but the overall palette fails to make much of an impact. Blacks are deep and stable for the most part, yet the image is a strictly two-dimensional presentation from beginning to end. Contrast is bit drab and ordinary, nothing that would convince viewers they were watching a high-definition format. In fact, resolution levels of the entire transfer are almost comparable to standard definition DVD. If not for the fact that the Blu-ray looks a tiny bit cleaner with slightly better sharpness and distinct details, one would be hard-pressed to really note a significant difference. This is an unfortunate shame since the film features great cinematography of many European sights and landscapes.
Similar to its predecessor, this 80s comedy sequel comes to us with a monaural DTS-HD Master Audio track. Unlike the first Blu-ray, however, this soundtrack is not all that impressive and tends to feel quite limited. The lossless mix is clear, with decent balance and fidelity. Character interaction is well-prioritized, and ambient effects are delivered nicely, along with the musical score. The issue is with a narrow dynamic range and the lack of any bass, which ultimately makes the presentation fall flat. It simply sounds like it's there with little or no expansion to cleanly differentiate between the low and high frequencies. In the end, the original design doesn't benefit much from the hi-rez upgrade, but it gets the job done and sounds average when compared to other monaural tracks.
As if the lack of extras weren't bad enough, Warner Home Video only offers one lowly supplement for this Blu-ray edition of 'European Vacation.' The Audio Commentary with Chevy Chase is an unfortunate, sporadic and overall dull track. There are many moments of silence, and even he sounds somewhat uninterested. Still, the few worthy comments from the celebrated comedian sound like critical jabs at the movie and some relevant tidbits about the production. In the end, fans will be none too impressed by this solo conversation.
'National Lampoon's European Vacation' doesn't exactly offer the same consistent laughs, but it's a strong sequel nonetheless. The Griswolds take the disastrous road-trip formula into foreign land, full of the laughs and absurdity that make the first movie such a great comedy. This Blu-ray edition features unimpressive audio and video and a horribly below par package of supplements. Taken as a whole, this is a prime example of a good flick wasted on a bad disc.