• Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
Here is a premise I have never heard before: a family goes on a cross-country vacation where comedy antics ensue. This has never been done in a series of Vacation films starring Chevy Chase. Never! Not at all.........ok seriously.

Johnson Family Vacation follows a clan headed up by Nate Johnson (Cedric the Entertainer) who insists on making the long haul from California to Missouri for a family reunion. Why? So he can defeat his competitive older brother (Steve Harvey) in reunion festivities and win the trophy for Family of the Year. Nate's family includes his wife (Vanessa Williams) with whom his relationship is rocky, his uppity teen daughter (Solange Knowles), his rapper wannabe son (Bow Wow), and his tyke-aged daughter (Gabby Soleil).

I don't think one can deny the strong resemblance in premise between Johnson Family Vacation and the infamous Vacation films, but that is not the reason I wish to slam Johnson Family. I find nothing wrong with using basic ideas from other films. The setup of a family on the road opens a comedy up to limitless possibilities. Anything can go wrong in the course of a journey and it can result in laughter. Johnson Family Vacation has the opportunity to rise to the occasion, but it holds back instead. Simply put: the movie just isn't very funny.

During their drive, the Johnsons encounter a variety of misadventures. Nate is left sitting naked in a motel hot tub with a horde of horny obese women, the family is rear-ended by a semi truck hauling diapers, and their pimped out Lincoln Navigator (the reason for the car being pimped is a whole other weak story) becomes covered in wet concrete. There is even a subplot featuring Shannon Elizabeth as a witch-worshipping hitchhiker that does not add anything to the already desperate jokes. There is also a portion of gross-out comedy involving a gigantic cup of urine being thrown in the face of a motorcycle cop.

If you are laughing, then maybe Johnson Family Vacation is what you need, but I barely released a couple of snickers during this flick. I see the presence of talented comedians Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey not given the chance to use their skills. Both Cedric and Harvey are renowned stand-up comedians whose duties include keeping a live audience in stitches. Spike Lee's The Original Kings of Comedy demonstrates this for both of these guys. So what are they doing here? They are playing lap dogs to a weak script that depends on ridiculous incidents to get laughs. There is a moment when Cedric throws on prosthetic makeup and attempts to play a second role as the family's uncle, Earl. Unfortunately the gag falls flat when Uncle Earl's character is simply Cedric mumbling and talking faster.

The script written by Todd Earl Jones and Earl Richey Jones is the problem. I think that when potential comic talent are featured in a comedy, they should have some input on the script material. Unfortunately, Cedric produced the film and apparently had some creative control before the script was written. It looks like he didn't reach for his most winning material.
The Making Of Johnson Family Vacation

A behind the scenes featurette that spends most of the time summarizing characters. If you have already watched the film, then you don't really learn much from cast members explaining who they play.

Commentary by Bow Wow, Cedric the Entertainer, Director Christopher Erskin, and Producers Eric Rhone and Paul Hall

This group does a great job filling the runtime of the film. The director and producers try their best to deliver an insightful, filmmaking perspective. They spend a lot of time patting themselves on the back during the film's "funny" moments.

Commentary by Writers Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones

Not as interesting as the previous track. The writers discuss the reasoning behind certain scenes and their collaboration with Cedric the Entertainer.

Deleted Scenes w/ Optional Commentary by Director Chistopher Erskin

Not a bad feature! There are some very lengthy scenes that are actually funny. It looks like someone left some quality material sitting on the cutting room floor.
Widescreen and full screen available. The picture quality looks good, but I can't be too picky. This isn't Star Wars.
5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. I am sure it sounds great with a surround sound system, but this basic comedy does not need cutting-edge sound to be enjoyed. It just needs a better script.
The feature film is not worth the time, but the extras are surprisingly ok.

If you are looking for a smart comedy to appease the adult audience, then don't bother going here. However, the simple comedy hijinks may be appealing to those in the 10-15 year old age bracket.

Cedric the Entertainer has the talent, but he is squandering it. I would like to say there is hope for him in the future, but his next project is a remake of The Honeymooners television show. Cedric! Stay away from recycled material!

If you see this available at your local video store, just keep on cruising.

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