26 September 2016 | t_atzmueller
National Lampoon's "Family Vacation", without the anarchy and slapstick
Bruno Kuessling (Peter Striebeck) is your "average Joe": working a boring job as a meteorologist in Hamburg, divorced, and father of Carolin (Katja Studt), a teen going through the tribulations of puberty. Like many Germans, Bruno has a passion for the US. Not the contemporary US but rather the times of Billy the Kid, Geronimo and Al Capone; in short, a passion for the times when the US still used to be the land of unlimited opportunities. Fearing that he would become ever more estranged from his budding daughter, Bruno decides to beat two flies with one swat and arranges a roundtrip through the states for him, Carolin, a former buddy and his girlfriend. However, fate intervenes (Bruno's buddy falls sick with a bad case of mumps) and hence Bruno finds himself travelling in the company of three women, his ex-wife having decided to join the trio. Chaos seems pre-programmed, including the "mandatory" delayed flights and the stress of intercontinental traveling, until Bruno and his entourage finally arrive in Los Angeles. There they join a busload of other, stereotypical, bourgeois German tourists and start their tour across the country, with (again) mandatory stops in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, final destination being New York.
"Wilder Westen Inklusive" is designed as a three part TV-mini-series, weighing in at roughly five hours, but essentially is one long movie. Over-long, to say the least. It's about 40 percent road trip, 30 percent comedy, and 30 percent family-friendly movie, including all those elements of love, coming-of-age, being strangers in a strange land, topped off with a hearty spoonful of schmaltz and relationship drama.
Imagine a reverse variation of "National Lampoon's European Vacation", without the slapstick and – of course – without Chevy Chase. Indeed, main-actor Striebeck can be considered one of the weak links of the production. Sure, the viewer is able to sympathize and even take pity on this "average Joe", who seems to hop from one mishap to the next misfortune, constantly having to juggle between trying to keep the trip from becoming a total disaster, while dealing with his daughter (who of course falls in love and has her first menstrual bleeding), as well as having to manage falling in love with his friend's girlfriend Ingeborg (Gundrun Gabriel) and re-awakening feelings for his ex-wife Marianne (Krystyna Janda). But, as said, a Chevy Chase he is not. Some much-awaited and desired laughter would have pushed the film up a notch, but this falls through after the first half, where everything seems to turn more serious, away from comedy and heading straight into love-triangle and soap-opera territory.
Director Dieter Wedel, a veteran of German TV, is able to keep it together and manages the story from becoming too tedious, but one notices that he must have had a rough time with keeping the momentum up for the full five hours. There are multiple flashbacks, giving us details about the former relationship between Bruno and Marianne that are both unnecessary, unwanted and, yes, even tedious, virtually reeking of filler-material. The supporting cast is both capable and reliable, chosen mainly from veterans of German TV and cinema, but – like mentioned – as stereotypical as they come. Same goes for the portrayal of the Americans: people in the big cities like California and New York are either over-friendly or shallow, Las Vegas is full of crooks and degenerates and the countryside-folk seem generally oblivious of the outside world. And if the Germans learn one thing about US-Americans: their staple source of food is hamburgers and their income comes primarily from tourist-traps. It is a very simple world that Wedel presents us with.
Essentially it's clean, family-friendly fun. But one has to admit that the movie hasn't aged very well, being almost 30 years old and will move likely be enjoyed mainly by nostalgic fans, who have a heart for the 1980's TV-drama or those, who have seen it during its original run. Having done so myself, I give it a 7/10 which, to people who haven't seen it before, will probably be reduced to an average 5/5.