Johnson Family Vacation
Directed by Christopher Erskin. Starring Cedric the Entertainer, Vanessa Williams, Bow Wow, Shannon Elizabeth, Steve Harvey, Solange Knowles. (2004, PG-13, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 9, 2004
Borrowing the concept from the National Lampoon series from the Eighties starring Chevy Chase, Johnson Family Vacation substitutes the Johnsons for the Griswold family and the increasingly popular Cedric the Entertainer in the amiable Chase role as the ineffectual paterfamilias. Despite a solid cast, Johnson Family Vacation labors through what should be a vacation romp. The comedy is half-baked – all setups with few satisfactory payoffs. There’s a geniality here that may overcome some of the film’s weaknesses, but not much that will make the film the kind of classic that the National Lampoon series opener is. Cedric plays Nate Johnson, an insurance salesman who’s taking his family – his estranged wife, three kids, and the youngest’s imaginary dog – on a drive from Los Angeles to Missouri to his family reunion. Along the way they encounter some obstacles, but screenwriters Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones and director Erskin add nothing inventive or new to the situations. Nate tries to overtake an 18-wheeler and attempts to romance his disinterested wife (Williams) and picks up a spooky hitchhiker (Elizabeth). His eldest daughter is a boy-crazy fashionista, his middle child (Bow Wow) argues music with Nate and grooves on the pimpmobile makeover mistakenly given to Nate’s Lincoln Navigator when it was brought in to have an 8-track player installed. Cedric also gets to pull double duty playing his country cousin Earl, who conveniently happens to be a car mechanic. At the reunion, the family encounters cousin Mack (Harvey), who’s in competitive overdrive to win the reunion’s "best family" award. On the spot, Nate’s brood works out a choreographed song-and-dance number for the competition. There are some sparks between former Kings of Comedy tourmates Harvey and Cedric, but it’s not enough to turbocharge this rig. Johnson Family Vacation is as arduous to watch as your neighbor’s poorly focused vacation slides.