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Johnson Family Vacation
2004 - PG-13 - 96 Mins.
Director: Christopher Erskin
Producer: Eric C. Rhone, Cedric the Entertainer
Written By: Earl Richey Jones, Todd R. Jones
Starring: Cedric the Entertainer, Bow Wow, Vanessa Williams, Solange Knowles, Shannon Elizabeth
Review by: Joe Rickey

One crowded family affair.
Target audiences, they exist for every film released. Usually it is made relatively easy to identify the aforementioned target audience for most every film. That assumption is put to the test with ‘Johnson Family Vacation’, a road trip comedy starring Cedric the Entertainer, Bow Wow now minus the Lil, and Vanessa Williams. Christopher Erksin haphazardly directs the film, in his debut feature.

I assume that those behind the production of ‘Johnson Family Vacation’ intended it to be a family friendly comedy in the vein of the National Lampoon franchise of Vacation films starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold. The film basically borrows most of its plot elements from that series of films, which seems to affirm that no one was trying to reinvent the wheel with this film. What, I ask, is a multitude of jokes sexual in nature doing in a film supposedly aimed at the discerning family audience? The film seems to find no situation where such a joke won’t fit in its tale of a family traveling to a long-awaited family reunion from California to Missouri. Such a plot leaves much room for detours and the filmmakers take advantage of that as the family runs into all sorts of problems during their journey such as an off-kilter hitchhiker (played with the least amount of effort by Shannon Elizabeth, of ‘American Pie’ fame), countless jokes involving bodily fluids, and an uncomfortable situation that finds Cedric the Entertainer in a hot tub surrounded by numerous heavy-set women who want to seduce him. Most of the jokes are lame and juvenile in their attempt at humor, lacking any real spark to get much more than a chuckle out of the audience. The film also lacks any solid characterizations other than Cedric’s almost militaristic father figure. The rest of the characters might as well be cardboard cutouts for all the defining (or lack thereof) description they are given.

The film may possess what seems like a goldmine of potential ideas to keep the film moving briskly along the path to its utterly contrived conclusion, but the film actually lags and darn near grinds to a halt more than once. There are far too many moments of lifeless attempts at comedy or half-hearted attempts at creating conflict among family members that only Cedric the Entertainer’s buoyant personality keeps the film from becoming a dead zone of comedic misfires. The audience is often left wondering when the film will get moving; never a good sign in what is supposed to be a breezy time at the movies.

The performances are all over the map. In the first lead role of his career. Cedric the Entertainer emits most of the energy present in the film, as he subconsciously seems to realize that the script isn’t going to bring energy itself. As his wife, Vanessa Williams goes through the motions, never bringing much in the way of enjoyment to her role. Bow Wow pouts with the best of them and at times is close to becoming annoying, not cute like as was intended.

Overall, ‘Johnson Family Vacation’ is a bland and lifeless comedy.

Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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