The Griswolds return to Walley World in this coarse, crass reboot of the National Lampoon comedy

As far as most people can remember, the Griswold family, first found bumbling around disastrously in a trio of John Hughes-penned road trip farces, last went on holiday in 1989. This to neglect both Vegas Vacation (1997) and a snappily titled made-for-TV sequel called National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation II: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure (2003), starring Randy Quaid.

The reboot, out this week, is coarser, crasser, and just called Vacation. If the Withnail & I concept of going on holiday by mistake sounds like it should be fun, doing so with this new brigade is disappointingly hard work.

The role of former child geek Rusty Griswold, played by six different actors in as many outings, falls into the hands of The Hangover’s Ed Helms, with his quizzical do-right grin and manic avoidance of confrontation at all times. He’s now a chipper airline pilot who bores and embarrasses his whole family, never more so than when he upgrades their customary cabin holiday in Michigan to an ill-fated nostalgia trip: they’re off to Walley World, the theme park from the very first film.

The logic behind revisiting this old circle of hell feels a bit feeble, but then Rusty is feeble-minded – the kind of guy who optimistically rents “the Honda of Albania”, a gruesome blue brick of a thing which looks exactly the same from both ends, and has inexplicable symbols on its key fob, such as a muffin and a swastika. Into this the new Griswolds pile, and into scrapes of varying promise they obviously tumble.

Christina Applegate, as Rusty’s bored and sex-starved wife Debbie, gets both the best and the worst of things. Laughing through her teeth when she’s called “old” by some college girls, she summons just the right amount of deadly rage, and you take her side.

Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth in 'Vacation' Credit: Warner Bros/RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Hopper Stone

But the film’s intent on humiliating her more than anyone. She has to chug a pitcher of beer, vomit all over an obstacle course and collapse on her face. When the Griswolds try to sneak in up the back road to some hot springs in Arkansas, and find themselves unwittingly bathing in raw sewage, why is it Applegate who has to smear it all over her face and even ingest some? Not for nothing was this film edited by one Jamie Gross.

Because this is Vacation for a new generation, there’s an aggressively try-hard edge to the comic routines. But rather than profiting from pre-teen swearing and paedophile jokes, they just signal an air of charmless desperation. The film has a particular terror of sex, and never misses a chance to freak out about it, especially when Rusty and Debbie are interrupted in al-fresco romance by an ugly dogging collective at the Four Corners Monument, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah converge. The sequence is duff enough before troopers from all four states barge in and fight each other babyishly over jurisdiction. You may well have had to be there.

On the film rumbles, raising a few more smiles than moments when you want to wince in discomfort or eat cyanide, but only a few. Chris Hemsworth enjoys strutting around on one stop-off as Rusty’s brother, a ludicrously well-endowed cattle farmer who can’t utter a down-home quip without it inexplicably containing the word “faucet”: weird, and almost funny.

Vacation could have been a fair bit worse, really, and some people will come away happy enough – notably the marketing division of Nissan, who get some juicy product placement, and anyone who wants to watch Chevy Chase sit down for a joke-free supper, or helium-voiced Charlie Day swept to his likely death over a waterfall. Not quite something for everyone, in truth, but there’s got to be something for someone.