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'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 1, 1989

As the unsinkable Clark Griswold of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," Chevy Chase survives a holiday season that would try Job's patience. His dreams of "the most fun-filled old-fashioned family Christmas ever" soon give way to the realities of bulbs that won't light and a pine that's too big for the living room. Never mind. Clark's faith in family tradition is Rockwellian, his spirits up there with the mistletoe. When the yule log smolders and the turkey explodes, this avowed family man counts his blessings, such as they are.

Producer John Hughes, who also wrote this newest chapter in the life of the Griswold family -- long-suffering Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and teenagers Rusty (Johnny Galecki) and Audrey (Juliette Lewis) -- definitely has a way with the foibles of parenthood. Whether it's "Uncle Buck" or "Mr. Mom" or the booby-footed Clark, Hughes has found an irresistible formula in fatherly ineptitude. Although newcomer Jeremiah S. Chechik directed "Christmas Vacation," it will prove pater-familiar to fans of the 1983 original and the "European Vacation" sequel. Only it's a bit more whimsical.

Chase presides amiably over this uneven but affable slapstick comedy, a decked-out domestic caper that both celebrates and debunks ye olde yuletide chestnuts. Here, loving grandparents grouse about their hemorrhoids before a roaring TV set, while a cousin's dog, Snots, spills garbage over the glistening kitchen floor. The kids fuss about sharing their rooms with the relatives. "It's Christmas. We're all miserable," says Ellen, just as Clark, having finished stringing 2,500 outdoor lights, slides off the roof.

Of course, this is but a small setback in Clark's quixotic quest for the perfect Christmas, a search that becomes a chain of handyman's mishaps and neighborhood feuds, a veritable flurry of foolishness. Now and again, it will sleigh you. Now and again, it won't. But the ribaldry eventually snowballs, aided by the arrival of Randy Quaid, who reprises the role of redneck cousin Eddie. Heretofore the yuppie neighbors have made ineffective foils for the Griswolds, a function that Quaid gleefully shoulders.

Eddie, inclined to blue leisure suits, white shoes and caps with flaps, is hillbilly burlesque, just a little bit of "Deliverance." He has even more trouble maneuvering through life than Clark does. "The metal plate in my head, I had to have it replaced 'cause every time Catherine {Miriam Flynn as his wife} turned on the microwave I'd {wet my pants} and forget who I was." He's gross as a belch in church, but there's something awfully touching about this hard-luck branch of the family tree.

Eddie and his family would be homeless but for their dilapidated RV parked in Clark's driveway. And their whey-faced young 'uns wonder why Santa forgets them every year. Clark takes Eddie's family in, of course, along with his quarrelsome in-laws and other strays. Mae Questel, once the voice of Betty Boop, is a treasure as Aunt Bethany, a daffy octogenarian who bestows her Persian cat, gift-wrapped and squalling, upon the Griswolds. Alas, kitty discovers electricity while chewing a strand of lights on Christmas Eve.

Finally, dead cats, sewer gas, cantankerous relations and other glitches dampen Clark's cheer; then his stingy boss (Brian Doyle Murray) reneges on his Christmas bonus. Visions of sugarplums turned into financial jam, Clark falters. Is Santa Claus lost? Has the grinch stolen "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"? No, Virginia. For as long as there's a rotten egg in the nog, there'll be a Clark Griswold. "Christmas Vacation" may not be a fancy package, but it is a diverting stocking stuffer.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is rated PG-13 for occasional profanity.

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