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Movie Review

Los Angeles insurance executive Nate Johnson is eagerly looking forward to the big Johnson family reunion in Missouri. It seems the Johnson family is very competitive, and at each year’s reunion one branch of the Johnson tree is awarded a “Family of the Year” trophy based on who wins the most events at the reunion. Nate’s family hasn’t been there for four years, though, so big brother Mack has taken home the prize each year.

Nate buys a tricked-out SUV to drive to Missouri in order to impress everyone, but he faces another problem: His wife, Dorothy, moved out (she now lives a few doors down from him) because he won’t support her in her effort to earn a college degree. So he needs to convince her and the rest of the family that they must all act like one big happy family at the reunion so they’ll be eligible for the trophy.

No sooner than you can spell “bad,” “rip-off” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” you’ll realize that the 1,800-mile drive to Missouri is not going to go smoothly. Add three kids, a mysterious hitchhiker, motorcycle cops, reckless truck drivers and misunderstandings with a hotel clerk and you have a formula—emphasis on the word formula—for a lame family comedy.

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Positive Elements

The overall message is the importance of family and the need to overlook minor irritants in those we love. Marriage gets a boost, too, as does sexual modesty—sort of. The children are generally respectful toward their parents, if you ignore a few eye-rolls and one big case of payback. And everyone pitches in to help when it’s really important. Mom and Dad have no tolerance for gangsta rap in their car. Nate says, “I like my music nonviolent and with limited cussing.”

Spiritual Content

Nate speeds by a nun with a broken-down car but picks up a shapely woman hitchhiking just down the road. At lunch, this guest starts saying grace, “God is great, God is good” but then veers in a satanic direction, saying, “Friends of the night, cover us” and other occult-sounding gibberish as her eyes roll back in her head. (The fear she inspires in the kids becomes a running gag.)

D.J. threatens to throw an Al Green CD out the car window—Dad has just thrown a few gangsta rap albums out his window—but Dad says, “Hey, wait, he’s a reverend.” As the disc flies away, Dad says, “Now how am I supposed to go to church on Sunday?” The competitive brothers get in a “prayer duel” while saying grace over a picnic, each trying to outdo the other in the fervency of his prayer. A man briefly mentions that he’s a Capricorn. A woman tells a man to put a new TV “right there between JFK and Jesus,” pointing to their portraits on a shelf.

Sexual Content

The teenage daughter is fond of short shorts and skimpy, midriff-baring blouses, but Mom orders her to change before leaving the house. Dad supports Mom’s decision. Dad says his son’s music is so bad, “You have to wear a condom to listen to it.” There are a few oblique jokes and sight gags regarding a man’s genitals, oral sex, as well as some jokes about homosexuals.

Nate gets stranded in a hotel hot tub without his swimsuit and tries to run back to his room without being noticed but runs square into a family with young children. (Nothing is seen.) Big brother Mack calls Nate “Momma’s little mistake down by the lake” and later talks about “doing the nasty” on Mamma’s blanket. The teenage daughter swoons over a man’s bare chest. Viewers also face a few scenes of women in bikinis or low-cut blouses.

A hotel clerk is convinced that Nate is cheating on his wife at the hotel and disapproves loudly. In that sense, the idea that sex should be reserved for marriage is reinforced throughout, even though Uncle Earl is a letch and constantly makes crude remarks about Dorothy, who is clearly put off.

Violent Content

A truck driver is irked when Nate passes him in a huff, so he speeds up and rams the back bumper of Nate’s car. Nate and Mack fight half-heartedly, and Momma decks a menacing man who shows up at the picnic. Nate and Dorothy wake up to find an alligator in bed with them, but the fight with the critter is mostly cartoonish and played for laughs. Nate is zapped by a cop’s taser. We briefly see a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a TV.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and several other crudities mar what is mostly a clean script. God’s name is abused three times, too.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Nate buys “diet” champagne at a hotel. He and his wife are seen sipping from glasses later. The hitchhiker’s marijuana pipe falls out while she gets into the car, and later the family is accused of drug smuggling because a cop finds it.

Other Negative Elements

A tasteless scene takes place in a restaurant’s men's room, where loud flatulence and other noises are heard from a stall. The man turns out to be the cook, and he leaves the room without washing his hands—after retrieving his favorite spatula off the counter. Elsewhere, a boy pees into an empty drink cup. Before he can get rid of it, Dad picks it up thinking it’s his drink. After a sip, he throws it out the car window, hitting a cop in the face.

The family stops at an Indian casino—apparently it had been just a small Indian trading post in Nate’s youth—and one “Indian” puts on a faux Indian outfit to satisfy Nate that it’s the same place he remembers.

Conclusion

Johnson Family Vacation has a good heart; the filmmakers just let their juvenile sense of humor get in the way. Many of the jokes are straight out of junior high. Artistically, it’s not very good, either, with forced set-ups for gags, lame dialogue, lamer background music and jumpy editing. It would be a high compliment to call the characters two-dimensional, and the acting is flatter than that. It'd be a complete waste of time and money to include the Johnsons in your family's vacation plans.

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Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Other Belief Systems

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Profanity/Violence

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Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Genre

Comedy

Author

Cast

Cedric the Entertainer as Nate Johnson; Vanessa Williams as Dorothy Johnson; Bow Wow as D. J. Johnson; Solange Knowles as Nikki Johnson; Gabby Soliel as Destiny Johnson; Shannon Elizabeth as Chrishelle; Steve Harvey as Mack Johnson; Cedric the Entertainer as Uncle Earl

Director

Christopher Erskin ( )

Distributor

Fox Searchlight

Network

Performance

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In Theaters

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Tom Neven

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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