Eight years after their last family outing, the Griswolds are back, but National Lampoon isn’t, in “Vegas Vacation,” a tepid fourth entry in the popular 1980s series that is decidedly showing its age. Patchy-looking production delivers enough mild yucks to keep devotees mollified, but theatrical dates will rep a mere pit-stop on this one’s quick trip to its destination in vid bins.
Series regulars Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Randy Quaid (who joined for “Christmas Vacation”) are all back for more, and thank God for Quaid, who injects a few bracing shots of mangy humor into what is otherwise a lukewarm brew.
Having earned a bonus for developing a new food preservative, Chase’s Clark Griswold packs wife Ellen (D’Angelo) and teenage kids Rusty and Audrey (played this time by Ethan Embry and Marisol Nichols) off to the neon oasis. At first, they make the usual rounds, with Clark being paged to join Siegfried & Roy onstage and Ellen turning to jelly when she is invited to sing a duet with Wayne Newton during a show.
The family also pays an obligatory visit to Cousin Eddie (Quaid), a boorish good ol’ boy who lives with his large brood in a trailer on a former nuclear test site in the desert. One of his daughters is a budding showgirl who spirits Audrey off to buy vulgar clothes and begins turning the Midwestern girl into a disco dancer, while Rusty is taken under the wing of a high-rolling wiseguy (producer Jerry Weintraub) and instantly turned into an apprentice goodfella.
While Ellen, largely ignored by her husband, is elegantly romanced by Wayne Newton, pic indulges in main running gag, which is that Clark simply can’t win at the tables no matter how hard he tries (he is particularly bedeviled by wormy dealer Wallace Shawn), while the underage Rusty can’t lose, collecting plenty of cash and four cars in the process.
Losing all his money and watching his wife and kids stray naturally makes Clark realize how important his family is to him, and scripter Elisa Bell has mercifully figured out a way for him to resolve all his crises within about 10 minutes of screen time.
Quaid is enjoyably grungy whenever he’s on, but Chase and D’Angelo are just going through the motions at this point. Back from the first pic is Christie Brinkley in a red Ferrari, albeit one with an occupied child’s seat, and in place of the late Imogene Coca, Sid Caesar makes a brief appearance in a climactic scene.
Shot largely at the Mirage, pic could plausibly have been co-produced by the Vegas tourist office, such is the quantity of plugs for local hotels, attractions and products.