“Johnson Family Vacation” is a paralyzingly unfunny and desperate comedy. It dulls the senses and aggravates the mind. There hasn’t been a movie this painful to watch since “The Passion of the Christ.”
It stars Cedric the Entertainer as Nate Johnson, a nerdy Los Angeles family man who doesn’t understand his hip-hoppy teenage son (Bow Wow, no longer Lil’), nor his phone-addicted, skanky-dressing teenage daughter (Solange Knowles), nor his attractive wife (Vanessa L. Williams), who is studying to become a CPA. His hapless disconnection from his family, a repeat of the Clueless Dad scenario from a million other movies and TV shows, is pivotal because they’re about to embark on a road trip together, driving to Missouri for the Johnson family reunion. If he can’t bring his family — in particular his marriage — together on this trip, all is lost. It is what philosophers describe as his long, dark night of the soul.
It is an even longer and darker night for those of us viewing the film, however, as the Johnsons are subjected to all manner of forcedly wacky and supposedly amusing predicaments and hijinks. None of it is funny — I mean NONE of it — and that’s because most of it doesn’t make any sense. Events are based on randomness, not on characters or on reasonable situations. I jotted down a few of the events that struck me as completely illogical:
– Their SUV is rear-ended by a semi, causing the back hatch to open and their luggage to fall out. Some of it is run over by the semi, but the Johnsons don’t seem to be lacking it later, so maybe it was all superfluous luggage anyway, stuff they didn’t need that they were just HOPING would be smashed by a truck.
– Nate’s wife, with whom he has been on the outs, lures him into a hotel’s hot tub with promises of friskiness, then confiscates his swim trunks and cruelly abandons him. This is unprovoked and curious behavior on her part, as she was perfectly sincere when she suggested the rendezvous.
– The family picks up a hitchhiker.
– The hitchhiker is an occultist.
– The hitchhiker has a pet alligator with her, which the family failed to notice (it must have been stuffed in the ONE small bag she was carrying), and which gets lose in the family’s hotel room in the middle of the night.
– They run out of gas, and Nate’s uncle Earl (also played by Cedric) comes along to help them, but instead of giving them gasoline, he takes their car apart piece by piece.
– At the reunion, Nate and his brother (Steve Harvey) get into a praying contest, to see who can out-pray the other.
– In the quest for the “Family of the Year” prize given each year to the most excellent branch of the Johnson clan, Nate and his brother’s respective broods perform in a talent show. But for some reason, they are the only competitors, even though there are a dozen or so other families that competed in all the other events. (I’m not saying I wanted to SEE more mid-grade talent-show acts; I’m just saying there should have BEEN some.)
And on and on. Saddest about this trainwreck is that several cast members — Cedric, Williams and Bow Wow in particular — are so likable. They deserve better. First-time director Christopher Erskin and first-time writers Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones deserve worse.
It is interesting to note that my lack of amusement watching the film has nothing to do with the cultural gap between me, a white male, and those who made it, who are mostly African-American. The characters’ race has almost nothing to do with the jokes, the plot or even the characters’ personalities. It could just as easily be a white family or an Asian family or a Martian family undergoing all this … and it wouldn’t be any funnier. Lame comedy is colorblind.
F (1 hr., 35 min.; )