Johnson Family Vacation
Not quite National Lampoon’s vacation.
By Andy Patrizio
Road trip movies are old favorites in Hollywood, both because of the possibilities for character and personality issues, and because it’s easy to shoot. Johnson Family Vacation is the latest in this genre, and I welcome it as a more positive portrayal of a black family than we see on screen. No guns, no n-words, no drug dealing. No one is shot. It’s a middle-class family from the ‘burbs.
Even though it’s led by Cedric the Entertainer, an extremely funny actor, and has a very good cast (with one exception), the movie falls short of the mark. For every funny moment, it’s counterweighed by an unfunny moment. It’s too bad. The potential was there.
Cedric is Nate Johnson, patriarch of a fractured family. He and his wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams) are separated and seemingly headed for divorce (and if you can’t figure out how this one ends #Array;). His son D.J. (rapper Bow Wow) has rapper aspirations while his daughter Nikki (Solange Knowles) is your typical teen. Throw in the requisite cute child, in this case Destiny (Gabby Soleil) and you have your Huxtables. Sorta.
They are planning a drive from Los Angeles to Kansas for a family reunion, which no one is particularly excited about. Nate has to face his ultra-competitive brother Mack (Steve Harvey) and his mother, who never approved of their marriage. Then there’s the fact his marriage is falling apart. His kids aren’t into the trip at all, save Destiny.
While the movie is 95 percent National Lampoon’s Vacation and five percent Frasier with its brotherly dueling, it’s also five percent Duel. as there’s an 18-wheeler tormenting the Johnson SUV along the way to Kansas. It seems odd and out of place, but the payoff is pretty funny.
Unfortunately, the comedy his hit and miss. At one point, Nate throws the CDs of slain rappers out the window, to his son’s anger. So his son responds, pointing out that Marvin Gaye met the same fate as B.I.G. Unfortunately, that great segment is followed by a few cases of bathroom humor, one of which ends in a cop covered in urine.
The Johnson Family Vacation DVD Menu.
An even bigger failure is the token white character, Shannon Elizabeth. She plays a hitchhiker hippie chick who turns out to be some kind of Satanist/black witch, scaring the daylights out of the family. It would have worked with a better actress. In Shannon’s case, though, if you saw American Pie you saw her best assets.
Other than Elizabeth, the cast works well, particularly anyone working with Cedric. He can make almost anyone funny (with one exception), but works best with Harvey and Williams. The movie isn’t as over the top as something, say, Martin Lawrence would do, but Cedric has shown you don’t need obscenity to be funny. Still, I suspect the desire to stay within a PG-13 rating is what hurt the film.
While in the spirit of Vacation. it’s not quite on its level. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from checking it out on a slow night. I wouldn’t make it a top priority rental, but don’t dismiss it, either.
Score: 5 out of 10
I said no bun. I’m on the Atkins Diet!
Johnson Family Vacation comes in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and it’s an exceptional transfer at that. Colors are beautifully well-defined and clean. Everything is bright, vivid and contrast is very sharp. Black levels are solid, whites/light colors are free of any noise and there is no chroma noise.
There is excellent fine detail throughout the film, as witnessed in the tricked out SUV the family drives. The print itself is pristine, with no flaws or dirt.
Lemme show ya how to trick out a car.
The down side? Some edge enhancement and haloing is present here and there. It’s only in a few instances, it’s not like it plagues the whole film. The other problem, which I hope is unique to my disc and isn’t a reflection of the transfer, was a whole bunch of errors causing locks ups, skipping and MPEG blocking errors. Hopefully I just got a bad disc and there isn’t a bad batch of discs on the market.
Score: 9 out of 10
She’s still got it.
Languages and Audio
The DVD comes with only an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, plus subtitles in English and Spanish.
This is a character-driven film, as you can imagine, and voices are all clean and easily intelligible, which is rare for a Cedric movie (think Barbershop ). But all dialogue comes through well.
What’s this, a Li’l Romeo CD?
Not surprisingly, the whole thing is front-loaded and somewhat diffused, so the dialogue is spread across the front three channels. There’s almost nothing for surround action, which is typical for a movie like this.
The soundtrack is largely a collection of 1970s r b/soul songs and modern day rap and r b, which is mixed slightly louder than the rest of the movie, but it’s nothing too terribly overbearing.
Score: 6 out of 10
*sigh* Yes, she’s my sister. So.
Packaging and Extras
The disc comes with the full screen and widescreen editions on opposite sides of a single disc, as is Fox habit. There is no insert in the Amaray case.
There are two audio commentaries: one with Cedric the Entertainer, Bow Wow, director Christopher Erskin and producers Eric Rhone and Paul Hall, and the other with writers Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones. Amazing how boring both of these are. Cedric is the sole redemption of his track. The rest are dull as dirt, especially the writers, who let long periods go by where they say nothing.
I can’t believe you were gonna buy that ugly-ass station wagon!
There’s a whopping 18 deleted scenes, running 23 minutes, which is a lot for a 90 minute movie. There’s a play all option, and you can watch with a commentary from Erskin. The scenes add more funny moments but weren’t necessary, just more of the same.
Johnson Family: Max on Set is a 12-minute EPK-style featurette, although it’s not total fluff, there are some interesting elements to it. Finally, there are some promos, one for Bill Cosby: Himself. due in a few weeks.