Johnson Family Vacation

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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Cedric the Entertainer as Nate Johnson/Uncle Earl
Vanessa Williams as Dorothy Johnson
Solange Knowles as Nikki Johnson
Bow Wow as D.J. Johnson
Gabby Soleil as Destiny Johnson
Shannon Elizabeth as Chrishelle Rene Babineau
Steve Harvey as Mack Johnson
Aloma Wright as Glorietta Johnson
Shari Headley as Jacqueline
Jennifer Freeman as Jill

Special Features:
Commentary by Bow Wow, Cedric the Entertainer, director Christopher Erskine, and producer Eric Rhone

Commentary by writers Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones

18 deleted scenes with optional commentary

On the set

Full-screen and widescreen anamorphic formats

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 96 Minutes

Synopsis:
Nate Johnson is ready to take his wife and kids to the annual Johnson family reunion. However, things start off on the wrong foot when a car customizing shop fails to put in an 8-Track and instead fully fits it with spinning wheels, onboard navigation, TVs, and more. Still, Nate deals with it and packs up his family for the trip from L.A. to Missouri. He’s determined to beat his brother’s family in the contest for “Best Family” at the reunion. But along the way they run into one mishap after another. They deal with a psycho trucker, a hitchhiking witch, a cop with a CHiP on his shoulder, and more. But the greatest challenge may be reuniting with his wife after a 3 month estrangement.

Johnson Family Vacation is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, crude humor and brief drug material.

The Movie:
I have to admit that when Johnson Family Vacation arrived, I wasn’t expecting much from it. However, after viewing it, I was pleasantly surprised. It ended up being a lighthearted comedy that is part road trip flick, part family reunion parody. The final result is a film that is like a light, modern version of National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Cedric the Entertainer is pretty good as Nate Johnson. This is probably the most normal character that Cedric has ever played. He’s your typical American dad. Nate is a mix between Bill Cosby and Clark Griswald. He’s put in all sorts of amusing and awkward positions. His wife leaves him naked in the middle of a crowded hotel swimming pool. Nate commits multiple traffic violations in front of a motorcycle cop. Then he fights with his brother at the family reunion. Cedric is really at the center of almost all the comedy in the film, so when he’s on, the movie works best.

The rest of the cast is decent, but they don’t carry the film like Cedric does. Vanessa Williams is beautiful as Dorothy Johnson. In fact, she seems a little too beautiful to be married to Nate. Still, she’s a good “straight man” for Cedric. Solange Knowles is also good as Nikki Johnson. I kept thinking that she looked like Beyonce, then I found out that she’s her younger sister. What do you know! Bow Wow makes an attempt at comedy as D.J. Johnson while cute little Gabby Soleil is the “Rudy” of the film as Destiny Johnson. Rounding out the cast is Shannon Elizabeth in a cameo role as Chrishelle Rene Babineau, a freaky witch hitchhiker that Nate picks up. She adds some bizarre moments to the film. Steve Harvey also plays as Mack Johnson, Nate’s brother. The more I see of Harvey, the more I’m annoyed by his over the top performances. Still, he and Cedric manage to do a few fun improvisations together that are amusing.

The music from the film is also an interesting mix of pop, rap, hip hop, and soul. It all comes together to give the film a fun sound.

As much as the film was a pleasant surprise, it did have some problems. It starts out strong, then becomes more and more formula and absurd by the end. A dumb conclusion of the movie featuring a man attempting to woo Dorothy ends up dragging the film down to its lowest depths.

Despite this, Johnson Family Vacation was a more or less pleasant surprise and is probably worth renting if you’re interested. Anyone that has ever taken a family road trip or gone to a family reunion will find something they can identify with here. Fans of Cedric The Entertainer will particularly enjoy this movie.

The Extras:
Both widescreen and full screen formats are included on this DVD. You’ll also find the following bonus features:

Commentary by Bow Wow, Cedric the Entertainer, director Christopher Erskine, and producer Eric Rhone – This commentary leans heavily on how the movie was made and eventually received rather than amusing anecdotes from the set, comments on the characters, etc. I found myself getting bored with it pretty quickly since Cedric didn’t clown around so much.

Commentary by writers Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones – This commentary leans more towards the story. The writers talk about how they got ideas for the plot and more. Would you want to listen to and hour and a half of this? I don’t know.

18 deleted scenes with optional commentary – These are deleted scenes along with outtakes and gags from the film. One of the biggest deleted scenes features the Johnsons and Shannon Elizabeth stopping in a small town convenience store. The clerk thinks they are trying to rob him and he opens fire on the women and children with a shotgun. Not exactly a nice depiction of rednecks. Other scenes show Steve Harvey’s character trying to find out if Nate and Dorothy have split up. He goes about this by grilling the children. Some of the other deleted scenes are briefer and many of them feature Harvey and Cedric improvising lines.

On the set – This is your typical “making of” feature with interviews, behind the scenes footage, and more. I found it interesting to hear which bits of the film were inspired by the real lives of the cast and crew. They’ve obviously taken a few road trips in their time.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re looking for a lighter version of National Lampoon’s Vacation, you might enjoy Johnson Family Vacation. It’s not on the same level as that comedy classic, but it does have a few funny moments here and there. Cedric The Entertainer fans may get a particular kick out of this movie.

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