'Johnson Family Vacation' more suited for TV than film
By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service
|JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION
Two-and-a-Half Stars (Fair-to-Good)
A veteran of stand-up comedy, the "Barbershop" films and a handful of hilarious beer commercials, Cedric gets his first star billing in "Johnson Family Vacation," directed by Christopher Erskin.
Cedric is the father in the domestic comedy about two feuding parents, three rambunctious kids and one imaginary dog, heading from Los Angeles to Missouri for a family reunion. But while some vacation families showcase a tightly knit family becoming unraveled by a parade of disasters, the Johnsons start off in disarray, and grow increasingly together during their misadventures.
Along the way, they encounter all sorts of nonsense a voodoo hitchhiker, a barreling 18-wheeler that runs them off the road, and an amusing incident at a motel hot tub, where a naked Cedric awaits his wife, only to encounter a large group of female strangers.
However, most of the film's gags seem forced, and none are as dementedly funny as the Chevy Chase's dead Aunt Edna or the Griswold family dog being tied to the bumper of a moving car.
Nate Johnson (Cedric) is a married version of the guy in the beer commercials. He's an amiable, but clumsy fellow, filled with good intentions, a little delusion of grandeur, and not much luck. He'd like to think he's the master of his family domain, but his kids and his wife know better.
Wife Dorothy (former Miss America Vanessa Williams) has been disappointed with Nate's lack of support as she plots a career path for herself. In fact, she's moved out of the house for a trial separation. She only agrees to the cross-country trip so she won't be a topic of gossip at the Johnson family reunion.
Teenage son D.J. (rapper Bow Wow) wants to be a rapper which his father also fails to support. Dad's also nervous about his teen daughter, Nikki (Beyonce's little sister Solange Knowles) and her budding sexuality. A third child the younger Destiny causes few problems, but just give her a few minutes.
Nate's eagerness to get to the family reunion isn't completely altruistic. He and his brother (Steve Harvey) feud each year over who deserves the reunion's family of the year trophy. (Do people actually award such things at reunions?). It's essential that Nate and his family get to Missouri in time for the annual competition.
Cedric creates an appealing character and demonstrates the beguiling good nature to carry a picture. Too often, though, "Johnson Family Vacation" delivers the contrived artificiality of a TV sitcom. I can't recall one laugh as robust and effortless as those found in Cedric's memorable beer spots.
Rated PG-13, profanity, innuendo, brief drug reference.