The creators of "Johnson Family Vacation" had their
hearts in the right place, even if their brains were on autopilot.
This comedy about a mishap-filled road trip is a rewarmed version
of "National Lampoon's Vacation." In fact, the opening
scenes are so similar -- a man goes to pick up his new SUV so
he can drive his family cross-country -- that we wonder if the
director and writers (all first-timers) simply took the script
from that 1983 comedy, scratched out "Griswold" and
wrote in "Johnson."
Little else in the plot is surprising, either. There are embarrassing
moments in motels, encounters with goofy relatives and even a
reworking of the old movie's urine joke, except this time it involves
a fast-food drink instead of a sandwich.
So, after saying all this, why does the movie work? Because of
a bubbly performance by Cedric the Entertainer. And because director
Christopher Erskin and screenwriting brothers Todd R. and Early
Richey Jones aren't afraid to mix a little warm-and-fuzzy sentimentality
with the jokes.
The mom, Dorothy (Vanessa Williams), has moved out with the two
daughters (pop singer Solange Knowles, in her movie debut, and
7-year-old newcomer Gabby Soleil). But they didn't go far. They
live right across the street from the dad, Nate (Cedric), and
teenage son D.J. (Bow Wow).
Nate hopes that a little forced togetherness will help reunite
the family. So instead of flying to the annual family reunion,
he packs everyone into his new SUV. The troubles start even before
he has backed out of the driveway.
Just as Nate is intent on keeping his family together, Cedric
is intent on keeping this comedy afloat. He makes himself the
butt of most of his jokes. Nate isn't a buffoon -- in fact, he's
a fantastically successful insurance agent, judging by the two
swanky suburban homes he owns -- but he has a limited, rosy perspective
on the world that leaves him in a state of semi-befuddlement.
The resolution of the Johnsons' domestic travails is simplistic,
but it's encased in enough upbeat, emotionally affirming vibes
that we buy it. Vacations are supposed to make you feel better,
and "Johnson Family Vacation" does just that.