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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"We're not scheduled to stop until Boulder City. I don't plan on stopping till we get there."
DVD ReviewDiscounting his great appearances in the Barbershop films, Cedric the Entertainer hasn't had much to crow about in terms of lasting success. Adding to the woes of a failed television variety series, Johnson Family Vacation quickly tanked in the spring of 2004. Though not a complete disaster, this half-hearted retread about a family getaway gone wrong doesn't offer anything new and original; a collection of the Entertainer's beer commercials would be 10 times better in comparison.
Nate Johnson (Cedric) is one of those obsessive tight schedule dads, organizing family events to begin precisely on time. That anal quality no doubt contributed to the break-up of his marriage to Dorothy (Vanessa Williams), a once-happy union that resulted in three pretty nice kids: D.J. (Bow Wow), Nikki (Solange Knowles), and the precocious baby of the bunch, Destiny (Gabby Soleil). Making it hard for the single dad are his two teenage children; Destiny's at that time of her life when it's all boy talk, all the time (with an ever present cellphone to ring her girlfriends for such a purpose), while D.J.'s not having an easy go of being second in command to Pop. And little Destiny? She's probably the smartest one of the bunch, telling all her troubles to her invisible dog.
Not an ideal time for the yearly Johnson Family reunion in Missouri, which has more or less developed into a competition between Nate and his slick older brother (Steve Harvey), who's looking to win the annual commemorative trophy yet again. So with the most unenthused kiddies and estranged ex aboard for the ride, it's off to St. Louis in Johnson's pimped-up SUV, which has to be returned without a scratch to qualify for an exchange.
One doesn't need to read ahead in the script to know trouble and tribulations await on the interstate, including a crazed, unseen truck driver that nearly runs them off the road (hmm, I wonder where the filmmakers got that idea?), a stopover at a fairly posh hotel where a bored, tensed-out Dorthy deflates Nate's attempts to revive romance in the facility's hot tub by transporting his clothes back to his hotel room (one of the film's few funny bits) and an extra addition to the passenger list, courtesy of an attractive but waaaay out-there hitchhiker (Shannon Elizabeth) whose idea of fun runs along the lines of sneaking in an intimidating animal into their next hotel resting place at 2 a.m.
Despite being low on the laugh quotient, I held out hope that Nate and company's eventual arrival for the big family shindig would balance the scale accordingly, but so much time gets spent on trying to recreate Chevy Chase's Vacation for a new generation (wasting well over an hour) that by the time the trip is over, there's precious little time left to explore comic possibilities; not even a surprise bonus role for Cedric (a loopy automotive repair guy) can snap viewers out of a disappointment-incited funk.
However, there are a few aspects of the film deserving mention, chiefly the fairly positive portrayal of an African-American family, instead of the clichéd, addled examples of recent years. In spite of the inconsistent script, I liked the funny interplay between Bow Wow and Cedric—it hits its high mark a bit too early, but includes probably one of the most hilarious moments I've seen in any film this year: Nate wants to rid his son's CD collection of controversial rappers killed at the peak of their fame, prompting D.J. to do the same ("Marvin Gaye? Shot. Sam Cooke? Shot.") If only the rest of this tired movie had maintained such bite and creativity, I might be writing an entirely different review.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Most of the time, current Fox films look nothing short of sparkling when they cross over from the multiplex to a digital platter. But Johnson meet the same high standards, possibly due to it's flipper status (with the pan/scan effort on the B-side) which instantly downgrades quality (and why studios are continuing to even release separate versions is beyond me, but that's for another debate). Perhaps due to a lower budget, colors come off as a little bland and exterior location shots off (but the night sequences look OK... odd).
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Johnson features a versatile 5.1 mix with low frequencies that nicely balance the enjoyable score and a combination of old-school soul and modern day jams with the usual directional effects that emerge from front and back.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Commentary by Whom: Commentary Track #1: Cedric the Entertainer, Bow Wow, Director Christoper Erskin, Producer Eric C. Rhone
Commentary #2: Writers Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones
Packaging: Keep Case
A batch of rightly-extracted scenes do nothing but act as visual Sominex, a paint-by-the-numbers making-of is nothing more than "you're great; no, you were great" back-slapping, and a brief look at the making of Fox's Taxi gives you a chance to sniff out another potential box office bomb.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsAlthough I liked the cast and held out high hopes, Johnson Family Vacation is not unlike a horrible weekend getaway to a destination to which you vow never to return.
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