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Movie review: Vegas Vacation

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The fourth installment into the National Lampoon’s Vacation series has been mired in criticism since its release. Now more than two decades since its release, we sat down for a rewatch to see if the Griswold family’s much-maligned fourth vacation was really a bust. 

The best of intentions

Before the release of 2015’s Vacation, Vegas Vacation was widely considered to be the worst film in John Hughes’ beloved National Lampoon’s Vacation film series. But for me, a proud child of the ’90s, Vegas Vacation will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Never one to misunderstand the needs and desires of his family, Chicago’s loveable everyman Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) finally gets his long-promised bonus and decides to take his family on vacation to “Fantastic Las Vegas!” Sure, it would be easier for Clark to try one of the best NJ online casinos from the comfort of his own home. But, lured by visions of unlimited shrimp cocktail, Clark convinces Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Ethan Embry), and Audrey (Marisol Nichols) to take the trip with the promise that he and Ellen will renew their wedding vows.

Apart from a minor mid-air mishap when Clark and Ellen attempt to join the mile-high club, the trip goes smoothly and the Griswold’s check-in to The Mirage, at the time still owned by visionary Steve Wynn. From his first glance onto The Mirage’s casino floor, Clark is instantly “blinded by glitter and the mighty dollar.” 

Clark, Ellen, and Rusty Griswold standing at a hotel check in desk
Clark Griswold And Cousin Eddie

The Griswolds and misadventure: name a more iconic duo

Predictably, the Griswold’s latest family trip doesn’t quite go as planned. Following a nearly disastrous incident during a tour of the Hoover Dam, led by dam-guide Arnie, Clark quickly turns into a compulsive gambler as he continually falls victim to snarky blackjack dealer Marty (Wallace Shawn). A surprise appearance by Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) adds to Clark’s misfortune. Initially, Eddie encourages Clark’s wagering. “It’s people like you who come here and blow the family’s $22,600 nest egg that built this town,” proclaims Ellen’s unabashed bumpkin cousin. But ultimately, it’s Eddie who bails Clark out of his predicament with his life savings, which he keeps buried in his front yard. 

As is tradition, the rest of the family also find their own bad luck. Under the tutelage of her cousin Vicki (Shae D’lyn), Audrey becomes the worst showgirl in all of Vegas. Ellen is relentlessly pursued by former teen heartthrob Wayne Newton (himself) as he tries to steal her away from her family. And Rusty, armed with a fake ID, assumes the alter ego of Nick Papagiorgio, a high-rolling software developer from Yuma. His fortune (or misfortune) is seemingly endless as the underage gambler wins four cars, including a Hummer H1 and Dodge Viper, with just four pulls of the slot machine. 

The love of family

Just as it has in previous installments, the love of family prevails over all else in Vegas Vacation. After recouping their losses thanks to a windfall and chance encounter at Keno, the Griswold’s realize money isn’t everything. Reinvigorated by their love for one another, Clark and company each get behind the wheel of one of Rusty’s newly won cars and head home for the Windy City. 

Is Vegas Vacation a masterpiece? Of course not. Is it even what most would consider a good movie? Likely, no. But it’s fair to say most of us have a few movies from childhood that we treasure, even if they don’t necessarily hold up today. And for me, Vegas Vacation is one of those flicks. Imagine your favorite childhood food that makes even your best friends turn up their noses. Maybe it’s junk food or something special your grandma used to make just for you. Your friends put it down because they never experienced it with the pure, untainted taste buds of a child. But you did, and you loved it. And you’ll always love it. This doesn’t mean you want to eat it every day. But when you do, it takes you back. That’s what Vegas Vacation does for me, it takes me back. 

clark griswold and family smiling together

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