Making the Grades
Cedric the Entertainer hardly takes a holiday from the screen during the Johnson Family Vacation. His character Nate Johnson has recently separated from his wife and moved into another house down the street. Looking for a bonding opportunity, the LA father organizes a journey across the U.S. so his reluctant brood can attend a family reunion in Missouri.
His first priority to ensure a perfect experience is getting the vehicle's entertainment system tuned up. Convinced the only way he can listen to his retro tunes is by having an 8-track installed, the nearly over-the-hill Dad takes his Lincoln Navigator (which may qualify as most obvious product placement in 2004) to 310 Motoring. When he discovers the trendy shop has done a complete street-wise customization--yet somehow forgot to put in the ancient tape deck--he knows the trip is off to a rocky start. Still determined, Nate loads his son D.J. (Bow Wow), daughters Nikki (Solange Knowles) and Destiny (Gabby Soliel), and skeptical wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams) into the leather seats and heads east.
In fine road trip movie fashion, the usual ?points of interest? are included: Erroneous shortcuts, sexy hitchhikers, bad bathroom timing, and a close encounter with a cement truck provide a generous selection of speed bumps between the Johnson's point of origin and their final destination.
And like any good family vacation, we venture into the unexpected. In this case, the unknown roads lead to Uncle Earl, a back-woods character also played by Cedric, who is similar to his rendition of Eddie in the Barbershop movies. That decision leaves this film's success falling heavily on the shoulders of this comedian turned actor. Another first-timer sits in the director's chair, as Christopher Erskin's prior experience has been limited to commercial production.
Fortunately, this unproven team has chosen a project that allows them to follow in the tracks left by a pack of former celluloid tourists such as the Griswalds in Chevy Chase's Vacation series. While those films often made a left turn leading to over-the-top scenarios and perhaps cruder humor, the Johnson's opt for a surprisingly tame passage.
It does detour into some sexual innuendo from Uncle Earl (like saying a character was ?momma's mistake by the lake?), and between Nate and his wife. One scene depicts Dorothy rejecting her estranged husband's romantic overtures, then leaving him stranded in an outdoor hot tub without any clothes (no nudity is seen). Those, along with some bathroom humor (we hear a man's bowel movement and a police officer is accidentally showered by a cup of urine), are the most likely moments to give parents pause.
At the same time, this script drives home some nice moments. Unlike other films where the family is torn apart by the mayhem, the Johnson's instead pull together. We see renewed positive relations between the siblings, and the parents turning to each other to overcome difficulties. Finally, Nate's warning to his son early in the film that he doesn't want any music requiring him to ?wear a condom just to listen to it,? reduces the amount of possible profanity.
Definitely falling into the milder side of the PG-13 range, Johnson Family Vacation doesn't have the sharp wit and comic timing often associated with this genre. However, aside from the few noted moments, this may be one road trip where you can bring the family along for the ride.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Johnson Family Vacation.
Has your family ever held a reunion? What ideas do you have for a get-together? A suggestion for relatives who live far apart may be a virtual family reunion (where people begin corresponding by email), or creating a family newsletter.