Johnson Family Vacation
Cedric the Entertainer is an extremely funny comedian, but unfortunately that fact doesn't come across on the big screen in "The Johnson Family Vacation". Cedric stars as Nate Johnson, a man that's simply trying to take the family to the annual family reunion. Nate's immediately family includes wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams), teenage daughter Nikki (Solange Knowles), teenage son D.J. (rapper Bow Wow), and the very cute little girl Destiny (played by child actor Gabby Soleil).
If all of this sounds somewhat familiar, it's because this movie has already been done – National Lampoons Vacation is the classic that "Johnson" heavily borrows from. This film tries to be the urban update, but it's just simply nowhere near as funny. Cedric is a great at physical comedy (remember the Budweiser commercials), but playing the straight-laced Nate relays on him to carry the film, and due to a weak screenplay, that just falls short.
The movie centers on Nate and his estranged wife and their kids, making the cross country trip from California to Missouri. Up for grabs is the coveted "Family of the Year" trophy that's given out each year. Nate's big brother Mack (Steve Harvey) is the reigning champ and will try to once again trump his younger brother.
Much of the movie is spent on the road, and the National Lampoons similarities begin from the beginning – including the car that the father really didn't want to take on the trip. There are the normal high jinks, including Shannon Elizabeth in a wasted role as a hitchhiker, but the movie plays like a road trip – long, uncomfortable and boring.
Don't get me wrong, there are funny parts including Cedric playing the dual role of his old uncle Earl and the sibling rivalry between Cedric and Steve Harvey, but for the most part there isn't enough to make you care about the journey. By the time they reach the family reunion, you only mildly care.
Director Christopher Erskin would have been better letting Cedric essentially play Nate as Cedric the Entertainer. After all, that's what National Lampoons did with Chevy Chase. Vanessa Williams plays the estranged wife quite well, but you never find a reason to really pull for her. One bright spot is Bow Wow as D.J., who is branching off from rapping to include acting. Solange Knowles (Beyonce's little sister), however isn't quite as strong.
Audio - The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and centers mostly around the center channel and the dialogue. The surrounds really come into limited play, but your subwoofer will get a good workout from the music friendly sound track. One gripe is that the dialogue seems to be low, while the music comes in rather loud. You can't leave this one on the same level throughout the movie.
Video- The video is very nice. The image is presented in 2.35:1 format and is very crisp and clear. Since most of the movie plays during daylight hours, the colors are very bright and even. There a ton of colors that will give your display a good workout. I didn't notice anything particularly wrong in this arena.
Commentary by Bow Wow, Cedric the Entertainer, Director Christopher Erskin and producers Eric Rhone and Paul Hall
Writers' Commentary with Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones
Deleted and Extended Scenes – Nothing special here that would have added to film. The only thing that remotely qualifies is an extended scene feature Nate and Mack's wives. Cutting this scene was ultimately the right call, because it doesn't enhance the role that Vanessa William's is playing.
Johnson Family Vacation: Max on the Set – 13 minute promo reel.
Bill Cosby as Himself - Promo for the DVD.
Soundtrack Spot - Promo for the CD of the soundtrack.
A special Message - PSA from the National Office of Drug Control
Final Thoughts - I love watching Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey do their thing. Maybe that's why I had high expectations for this film, but ultimately I walked away unsatisfied. This movie could have been much funnier, but the journey is so flat that by the time they get there it's not important anymore. That, plus the fact the payoff really doesn't payoff, means I can't recommend this movie. If you're a fan of Cedric then rent it, if not skip it. Cedric the Entertainer will continue to do movies and I know that he'll come back with better efforts in the future.