You would think a movie with the comedic flair of Cedric the Entertainer, the refined experience of Vanessa L. Williams and the pop appeal of rapper Bow Wow and Solange Knowles would have a unique blend of wit and wisdom. But “Johnson’s Family Vacation” takes a turn for the worse with dry humor and a predictable storyline that takes the audience on a ride that is as bumpy as it is boring.
Cedric plays Nate Johnson, an anal-retentive father, separated from his wife, Dorothy, played by Williams. Dorothy has custody of their three children, D.J., Nikki and Destiny played by Bow Wow, Knowles and Gabby Soleil respectively.
Phrases such as “I-10 by 10” reiterate Nate’s methodical nature, but the King of Comedy struggles to create natural humor in his rigid role. Furthermore, his meticulous routines always wind up in disaster reminiscent of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
The movie begins with Nate and D.J., his hyperactive, hip-hop hungry son, picking up their Lincoln Navigator for the road trip from California to Missouri for the Johnson family reunion. All Nate wanted was his eight-track player installed, but the dealership mistakenly “pimps his ride” with Burberry interior, 26-inch spinners and a GPS navigational system.
As they bounce home with the new low-rider hydraulic system, the characterization has already become shaky. Bow Wow, in his first film since “Like Mike,” tries to too hard to act his age and his mannerisms are exaggerated. This, paired with Knowles’ half-heartened attempt to play a boy-crazy drama queen, falsified the chemistry of the siblings. The youngest daughter, Destiny, has limited lines and a fixation with an invisible dog, Sir Barks-A-Lot.
On the road, the movie rapidly turns into a dead end of clichÃ©s. From running out of gas to drenching a cop with a urine-filled cup, small giggles diffused throughout the crowd. But there was never the stomach-cramping, gasping-for -air hilarity that many come to expect of Cedric. Even partner-in-comedy Steve Harvey, who played Nate’s gaudy older brother Mack, seems restricted to contrived script gags.
The movie is more like an ABC Family Sunday Afternoon special. Crammed in the SUV for days, the dysfunctional family encounters nothing but problems. They are run off the road “Jeepers Creepers” style and Shannon Elizabeth makes a cameo appearance as Chrishelle, a hitchhiking flirt who practices witchcraft.
Perhaps the only scene worth retelling was when Mack and Nate competitively prayed over the food, while exposing childhood mishaps to discredit each other in front of their mother. Although “Vacation” ultimately attempts to give a lesson in family values, the unconvincing cast only makes the three-day rocky road trip feel like a three-hour movie.
Ironically, in the end, the “tricked out” Navigator finally falls apart much like the direction of the film did in the first ten minutes.
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