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Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
'Family Vacation' an uninspired ride — with flashes of comedy

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

Gabby Soleil, from left, Vanessa Williams, Solange Knowles, Bow Wow and Cedric the Entertainer star in "Johnson Family Vacation." The film is passable, uninspired entertainment, as harmless as watching home movies of your own vacation.
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Feel like going for a ride in a fully loaded, Burberry-trimmed SUV with a frustrated, controlling dad (Cedric the Entertainer), his unhappy wife (Vanessa Williams), and their three catalog-pretty, wisecracking kids? That's "Johnson Family Vacation" in a nutshell: a long, long road trip to a Missouri family reunion, with scheduled stops for bathroom humor, imprisonment, failed seduction, witchy hitchhikers, a nasty moment involving a paper cup full of urine, and other staples of American family travel.

Some of this is actually even funny, thanks to Cedric the Entertainer, the mysteriously monikered actor/comedian who proves quite good at playing a fussy father. Nate Johnson looks for reasons to fret about everything, including his son D.J.'s fascination with rap music — rappers, reasons Dad, don't have dental insurance, and that's why they all have gold teeth.

But the screenplay requires Nate to be constantly humiliated — by his wife, Dorothy (whose career aspirations are making Nate nervous), by hotel clerks, by restaurant employees, and even by his brother Mack (Steve Harvey), with whom Nate is vying for the Family of the Year award at the reunion. (Mack, who dresses his family in matching sweat suits, is a shameless competitor.) Sometimes Cedric can make this sing; sometimes it's just cringe-worthy, as when he's trapped naked in a hot tub with buxom strangers.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Johnson family vacation," with Cedric the Entertainer, Bow Wow, Vanessa Williams, Shannon Elizabeth, Solange Knowles, Steve Harvey. Directed by Christopher Erskin, from a screenplay by Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, crude humor and brief drug material. Several theaters.

The screenplay, by Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones, never builds to any kind of crescendo; it's just one sketch after another, with seemingly little connection or logic. A sequence involving Shannon Elizabeth as a voodoo-ish hitchhiker (she's scarily vacant, like she's been taking smile lessons from Elizabeth Berkley) is especially nonsensical. There's no reason this family would have ever hooked up with her, nor any logic to her sudden dismissal from the film, other than that the screenwriters clearly got tired of her (hey, they weren't the only ones) and wanted to move on.

It all concludes with a blowout reunion, full of three-legged races, abundant food and talent competitions — and if you're wondering whose family wins, or whether togetherness and love prevails, you just haven't been paying attention. "Johnson Family Vacation" is passable, uninspired entertainment, as harmless as watching home movies of your own vacation — and about as exciting.

Moira Macdonald:


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