Johnson Family Vacation

Watching Johnson Family Vacation is like watching somebody's vacation videos - there is a feeling of being trapped, stuck at the mercy of whoever is narrating their boring experiences. The difference is that this is a movie, and one can leave the theater. Even better, don't go to the theater in the first place to watch this movie. It's not bad; it's just so derivative and uninspired that it's dull, which is especially disheartening given some of the talent in front of the camera. This is Cedric the Entertainer's (Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Intolerable Cruelty) first outing as the star of a film, and it was a serious mistake on his part. He plays Nate Johnson, insurance salesman and family man. The Johnsons are crossing the country from the Los Angeles suburbs to Missouri, site of the Johnson family reunion. Of course, everything that can go wrong along the way does, but that's okay, since everything will be peachy at the end.

First, Nate is separated from his wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams, Shaft, Light It Up), but oddly enough, she lives literally right down the street. She had career aspirations, and apparently Nate disagreed with them. Still, for their kids, she agrees to go. So Nate, Dorothy, Nikki (Solange Knowles, sister of Beyonce), DJ (Bow Wow, Like Mike, All About the Benjamins), and little Destiny (Gabby Soleil) pack into Nate's mistakenly tricked out SUV and head off across the county. The nature of the movie is episodic, and for better or worse (WORSE), the script by Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones unfolds this way. Each state brings a new wacky adventure for the family, and they slowly begin bonding along the way. An episodic movie is not inherently bad, but director Christopher Erskin haphazardly strings all the various misadventure together, and then drops any sort of meaningful plot development that is supposed to tie all these things together.

Along the way, they pick up a goofy hitchhiker (Shannon Elizabeth, Love Actually, 13 Ghosts), stop by an Indian reservation, Nate gets stuck naked in a jacuzzi, and other random comedy bits strewn together with no rhyme or reason. The other diversions are so forgettable they aren't even worth mentioning. Waiting at the reunion is Nate's brother Mack (Steve Harvey, You Got Served, Love Don't Cost a Thing), who is constant competition with Nate for the attention of their mother. He has also won the family of the year award at the reunion for a number of years running. And, Nate's mother doesn't know he is separated.

Cedric the Entertainer is a wildly funny comedian. Not here. It feels like Erskin slipped him a sedative, then told him to start performing. The script gives him nothing to work with, and he seems too bored to make an effort to make bland material watchable. Other actors like Williams and Harvey can be appealing, but here Williams is also bland and Harvey is annoying. The Jones' are content to rely on bathroom material to wake up the viewers instead of doing anything memorable. Bow Wow acts like he is trying to hard, and all that Knowles does is bat her eyelashes and roll her eyes in disgust. Maybe the latter is from watching her own movie.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 36 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, crude humor and brief drug material.

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