Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) is a pilot for Econoair. It’s a regional airline. Film starts with him making the 18 minute flight from South Bend, Indiana to Chicago. He lands, and while waiting for the Crew Shuttle, he is bullied out of line by a rival pilot (Ron Livingston).
At home we see Rusty is married to Debbie (Christina Applegate). His older awkward son James (Skyler Gisondo) is being bullied by his younger brother Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Kevin wrote “I have a vagina” on James’ acoustic guitar. Rusty fixes it by crossing out “vagina” and writing “penis”.
That night, the Griswolds have dinner with their neighbors the Petersons (Keegan-Michael Key and Regina Hall). Jack Peterson has a great relationship with his son. They built a go-kart and play fight. Rusty tries to show that he and his kids have the same great relationship, but Kevin isn’t interested in pretending and James is just really bad at bonding. Nancy Peterson passive-aggressively gives Debbie a hard time about not “liking” her Instagram photos from the family’s Paris vacation. She also comments on the fact that Debbie has lost so much weight that her wedding ring is loose on her finger. Rusty leaves the dining area, but comes back in time to hear Debbie reveal that she’s disappointed that the family only ever vacations at their cabin in Cheboygan, Michigan every year and that she’d like to do something different.
Rusty rents a car, the only thing left was a thing called a Prancer from the Ukraine. It has two gas tanks and is a hybrid, unfortunately the outlets are insane (and have corkscrews as part of the plugs). It also has too many mirrors and a ridiculous amount of buttons on the key fob including a swastika and a muffin. It was the only thing available that weekend. Rusty is recreating his favorite vacation from he was a kid, he’s taking the family to Walley World!
Along the way, Rusty tries to get the family to sing along with the song “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal. They have no interest. He shows the family that the car comes standard with a CB so they can talk to truckers. Rusty asks the truck behind them (which has a teddy bear mounted to the grill) if the road is clear of cops. The trucker says it is. Kevin gets on the CB and asks the trucker if it’s true that all truckers are rapists. Rusty bungles up and apology and explanation as the truck barrels past them.
The family stops at a diner for lunch in Missouri. As they leave, we see the Teddy Bear Truck is in the parking lot.
On the road, James sees a cute girl in the back of a Jeep and they have a wordless flirtation until Kevin puts a plastic bag over his head from behind and tries to kill him. Once James is free, the Jeep girl is gone.
When the Griswolds get to Tennessee, Rusty decides to take a detour and show the boys where their mom went to college. They go to her old sorority house and see they’re doing a “chug run” (an obstacle course you have to complete after you chug a pitcher of beer) to raise money for “Ass Burgers” instead of Asperger’s. Debbie brags that she actually invented the chug run. One of the current sisters hears and asks if she’s the legendary Debbie Does Anything. Debbie is clearly embarrassed that Rusty is finding out about her wild college days. The Sorority Sisters dismiss Debbie as being old, but to prove that she’s still got it, she decides to do the chug run. Debbie chugs the beer and immediately starts projectile vomiting her way through the course.
Back on the road, Teddy Bear Truck is behind the Prancer. It speeds up and taps their bumper. Rusty speeds away, but the truck is hot on their tail. Rusty decides to pull a Fast and the Furious move and yank the emergency brake while turning so they can take off in the opposite direction and get away. His logic: “If Vin Diesel can do it, so can I.” Rusty attempts the move and rolls the Prancer end over end along the highway. Luckily it ends up on its wheels and they take off.
The family stops at a little motel and Rusty is a little embarrassed that Debbie clearly has experienced more than he has. They have the number conversation. Rusty has been with three women. Debbie has been with about 30 guys. He decides to spice up their sex life and says they’re going to do it in the shower. The shower is unfortunately disgusting and they don’t. Outside, James is playing his guitar while soaking his feet in the hot tub. The girl from the Jeep is staying at the same motel. Her name is Adena (Catherine Missal). They’re really starting to hit it off until Rusty comes out and tries to help. Instead of helping, he ends up looking like a pedophile and scares off Adena.
The next stop is to visit Rusty’s sister Audry and her husband, an incredibly successful and handsome weatherman named Stone. Debbie is a little too enamored by Stone, so Rusty decides to make another detour first.
The family stops at a hot spring, but the line to get in is really long. He asks a local passing by (with a rat on his shoulder) if he knows a shortcut. The local tells him to take the dirt road off to the side up until it ends. Rusty thanks the local and asks what the pet rat’s name is. The local sees the rat, screams, and runs away. The Griswolds head up the dirt road and find the spring. At first it’s great, but then they find an ear and a syringe. They realize it’s not a spring, but a septic dump. They get out and return to the Prancer only to find that the local broke in and stole all their stuff.
The Griswolds get to Audry (Leslie Mann) and Stone’s (Chris Hemsworth) house. It’s a huge ranch. Rusty wanted to make up a better excuse why they had no money, were in their swimsuits and covered in shit, but Kevin tells them everything. Oh yeah, and the local also painted a penis on the side of the Prancer. Stone is amazing. Everyone loves him. That night Debbie is super horned up, but Rusty realizes it’s just because she’s turned on by Stone. In fact, her wedding ring is gone. She explains that it’s been loose lately and she lost it. She’s really upset by that, but it was an accident. Stone comes in to tell them how to operate the remote control. He’s only in boxer briefs and we can clearly see the outline of his massive penis.
The next morning, Rusty wakes up early to help Stone wrangle cattle. Instead of horses, they ride 4 wheeler Quads. Rusty is of course in over his head and ends up riding right through a steer and it explodes. Stone hoses the steer guts off Rusty and the Griswolds are on their way again.
That family stops at a reservation for the night. They’re by the Four Corners Monument, so Rusty has the idea that he and Debbie should do it outside in four states all at the same time. They sneak off and go there. Unfortunately there are already tons of naked couples with the same idea in mind. Police from the four states (Michael Pena, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson and Tim Heidecker swoop in to make arrests. Everyone flees except Rusty and Debbie. They too are able to escape when the four cops fight over whose jurisdiction this is.
Back at the reservation, James runs into Adena again. He comes clean and explains that the pedophile was his dad trying to be his wing man. Right when they’re about to kiss, Kevin comes out and ruins things. Adena thought James was being bullied by an older brother and doesn’t understand why he just doesn’t stand up to Kevin. James explains that he’s been trying to be the bigger man. She asks how that’s been working so far. It hasn’t. So James finally stands up to Kevin and awkwardly wins.
Back on the road, they stop at the Grand Canyon to go rafting. Their guide (Charlie Day) gets dumped by his fiancé right before the trip and decides to take a much more dangerous fork in the river towards a waterfall. The family barely makes it to safety, but the guide goes over the falls.
The family almost died. Rusty tries to sing “Kiss From a Rose” again, but no one is having any part of it. This has all been too much. They’re at the end of their ropes. The car runs out of gas. Rusty hits the muffin button on the key fob and the car starts up and drives away without them. He hits it again and the car blows up.
The Griswolds don’t understand why Rusty needs this vacation so bad. He explains that it was the time in his childhood when his dad pulled out all stops to try to do something for his family. He wanted to do the same, but that’s it. He quits. He’s done trying. The car runs out of gas in the desert. Rusty abandons the family and starts walking off. From down the road, the Teddy Bear Truck appears. Rusty runs away, it chases him. Rusty stops running and the driver (Norman Reedus) gets out to tell Rusty that he found Debbie’s ring way back in the diner in Missouri. He gives the family a ride to San Francisco. Kevin apologizes for saying that all truckers like molesting kids and asks to make sure that’s not true. The trucker doesn’t answer. He drops them off at a Bed and Breakfast. Before the trucker leaves, Rusty asks why the Teddy Bear. The trucker says it’s to make kids feel safe. Rusty asks if the trucker has kids. The trucker says no and drives off.
The Bed and Breakfast is run by Clark and Ellen Griswold (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo). After spending the night, Clark tells Debbie that Audrey’s life isn’t so great. She and Stone sleep around on each other. Rusty finds out the copy of The Help that Debbie has been reading throughout the movie is just the jacket for The Help. She’s actually reading a book about saving a dead marriage. He’s upset. She says they don’t have a dead marriage, because he never gave up on it. So Rusty decides he has to complete his mission. He can’t give up on the family. He’s taking them to Walley World. Clark lets his son borrow the old station wagon from the first Vacation movie and off they go. Rusty has sold his family on riding this new roller coaster called the Velociraptor and that’s just what they’re going to do.
They get to the park and end up waiting in line five hours to ride the coaster. Right when they’re next, the rival pilot from the beginning of the movie and his family cut in line because they have Fast Passes to the park. They’re also the last family to get to ride. The park is closing. The Griswolds team up and beat the shit out of the other family and get on the coaster.
As the coaster goes up the first hill, the Griswolds all start singing “Kiss from a Rose” together. When the coaster gets to the third loop it stalls upside down. Later that night and emergency team has to go rescue everyone.
The next day, Rusty flies the boys back home. He and Debbie are going to Paris. He used his airline connections to get seats…they’re the rumble seats next to the bathrooms at the back of the plane where the flight attendants sit. Still though, they’re going to Paris.
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