By Andrew Jenck
Your eyes don’t deceive you, you read that title right, and yes that is Cousin Eddie. In 2003, NBC aired a follow-up to the holiday classic, Eddies’ Island Adventure, in which puts center focus on Randy Quaid’s character from the Vacation film series that has been unknown to fans of the franchise and for good reason. It is an agonizingly boring, unfunny film in which all the characters are thinly cut out, Christmas is glossed over, and takes a lovable goof like Cousin Eddie into any other dumb but well-meaning father. You’ve probably seen a funny side character and said “wow, I could see that character in his own movie.” Guess what? That never works. Comic reliefs are meant to act as a foil to our relatable straight-man in order to pass the joke, such as Dory to Marlin, the minions to Gru, etc. When given the full spotlight, however, they’re revealed as relatively dull characters, at best, as they’re never meant to have a story arch necessarily but help relieve tension to prevent the film from being too melodramatic or depressing. This film is too goofy and over-the-top, even by this series’ standards to require such a character.
It should be noted that John Hughes, writer of the original Vacation movies, and Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswald, the main character, did not return to this installment. Hence staples of the series that made it so beloved, i.e. satire, edge, and genuine heart are replaced with low-brow slapstick, forgettable quotes, and a poorly fleshed out family dynamic. What made much of Hughes’ work ingenious was the weight and relatability. While there would be slapstick and some cartoony zaniness, there was usually a central heart to it all that made you laugh at the characters but also simplify them. Anyone can relate to Clark Griswald’s efforts to create the best holiday possible for his family, but it is still fun to laugh at the extremes he goes through or experiences because you could see yourself having those same thoughts or being in a similar situation. Simply put, Hughes was a master at taking understated situations to the most extreme measures.
Here, however, takes an extreme situation to the most understated measures. Eddie and his family get an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii only to get stranded on a deserted island in which no one ends up as stressed out as they should be and out of know where try to have a merry Christmas. We go from relatable family matters to Cast Away — you just can’t have that kind of shift in a franchise. It may have been alright had the jokes land, which they don’t. Multiple running gags will slag on, one of which being mean spirited. Some lack a punch line, such as Eddie stuffing his clothes in the car but no real consequences, and all of it is in your face from farting dogs to toilets spraying water at Eddie’s wife.
The biggest contributor, however, to the lack of subtlety is Cousin Eddie himself. His shtick can only work in small doses and with someone reacting to his antics or mannerisms. However, there are very few reactions to Eddie’s antics and whenever someone’s the punch line it’s usually just some weak slapstick. There’s just nothing tangible or relatable to Eddie. There have been instances where the dumb, but well-meaning dad trope has worked well, see classic Homer Simpson, but he’s fundamentally just that one odd family member that acts like a goof. They hammer this is in even further by reminding us that he lost his job to a chimpanzee because har har he’s dumber than a monkey.
At the end of the day, Christmas Vacation 2 is exactly what you’d expect: a cheap cash-in on a far more beloved classic without any of the effort or sincerity. Granted, it’s so cut off from the original that you can easily separate it, but it’s still insulting to use the original as a brand to sucker in ignorant fans. Much like some of my ludicrous family members, I can enjoy Eddie in small parts but not in for 90 minutes straight.