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Johnson Family Vacation

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Johnson Family Vacation

Starring: Cedric the Entertainer, Lil Bow Wow
Director: Christopher Erskin
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: April 2004
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Shannon Elizabeth, Steve Harvey, Philip Bolden, Chris Hardwick, Solange Knowles, Lorna Scott, Gabby Soleil, Vanessa L. Williams, Aloma Wright

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Way better than its cheesy trailer, JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION is a slightly risqué family film about the Johnsons' trip to their annual family reunion. A good-spirited comedy filled with likeable characters, it warms the heart while it tickles the funny bone. You'll be smiling throughout and laughing frequently as the Johnsons, father Nate (Cedric the Entertainer), mother Dorothy (Vanessa Williams), son DJ (Bow Wow), older daughter Nikki (Solange Knowles) and younger daughter Destiny (Gabby Soleil), drive halfway across the country from L.A. to Missouri.

Most family get-togethers are more laidback than the Johnsons' gathering. Every year there is a competition for the best family, with sack races and singing competitions to determine the winning family. Mack Johnson (Steve Harvey), Nate's boisterous and supremely confident older brother, plans on taking home the big trophy again this year. In what appears a form of bribery, we watch as Mack brings their mama a large plasma screen display for her living room. She tells him to, "Set it right over there between JFK and Jesus," her two prominent pictures.

The road trip is structured as a disconnected series of humorous incidents and comical disasters. Before the voyage begins, Nate goes to the dealer where he had asked for an eight-track tape player to be put in the big Lincoln Navigator that will effectively become the family's bus for the journey. The dealer, who wasn't able to locate an ancient tape player, instead, remade the SUV into something like a family version of a pimpmobile.

Nate tries his best to control situations and offer unwanted advice, but he turns in one funny failure after another. He lectures DJ about their being no future in a career in rap music because rappers have no 401Ks, no medical and no dental. Their gold teeth prove the latter, Nate points out. Along the way, he and his son have numerous opportunities to argue about their differing music tastes. "Got to wear a condom just to listen," Nate complains about the rapper's songs.

All of the family members have their own little stories. Destiny has an imaginary pooch called Mr. Barks-A-Lot that she makes her dad retrieve whenever it gets out. Nikki is a cute teen whose favorite fashion accessory is the cell phone she has attached to her ear. With eyes that are a riot, she mentally undresses a hunk of an Indian whom she meets at an Indian casino where the family stops briefly.

In one of the film's better moments, Nate turns generous. Seeing a stranded hitchhiker along the road, he slams on the breaks in order to help out the poor lass. "What would Jesus do?" he asks his wife, more in the form of a statement than a question. Although the young woman, Chrishelle (Shannon Elizabeth), looks like a cross between a hippie and a lap dancer, I'm sure her appearance had no bearing on his magnanimous gesture. As in the rest of the movie, Chrishelle's character, who turns out to be a witch among other things, is quickly milked for all it's worth and then never seen again so we can switch to the next episode.

The journey is truly the reward in JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION. The reunion, shown briefly, is okay, but getting there is most of the fun.

JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION runs 1:35. It is rated PG-13 for "some sexual references, crude humor and brief drug material" and would be acceptable for kids around 10 and up.

Copyright © 2004 Steve Rhodes

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