National Lampoon's Animal House was one of the rare theatrical films that permeated the culture. Though it didn't earn the same status, National Lampoon's Vacation was also popular with audiences.
Unfortunately, most of the magazine's other film franchises have missed more than they've hit. Throw the Lampoon's new telepic — TBS Superstation's National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Reunion— onto that junk pile.
The premise: a distant-relative, fish-out-of-water story that's been done many times before (including in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation). Yuppie anesthesiologist-to-the-stars Mitch Snider (Judge Reinhold) gets an invitation to spend Thanksgiving with a long-lost cousin, taking his reluctant wife and teenage kids from Los Angeles to Idaho. Upon their arrival, the repressed Sniders meet cousin Woodrow (Malcolm in the Middle's Bryan Cranston) — an aging hippie — and his freaked-out family. Rather than hilarity, however, lame clichés ensue.
There's "Uncle Phil," a neighbor who accompanies the Sniders on the trip, apparently solely to provide the fodder for flatulence jokes. Upon arrival in Idaho, Mitch's family is afraid to leave the car until Uncle Phil prompts them to do so.
And who could blame them? The absolutely manic performances by Cranston and Penelope Ann Miller (Woody's wife, Pauline) in the meet-up scene would be enough to scare anyone away. It gets better, but not much, when these clichés are trotted out: We learn that Woody's the town outcast for running the wrong way during the state championship football game, earning him the animus of local gun-store owner Fred Hodges (Garry Chalk) but nonetheless, Mitch's daughter Allison (Hallie Todd) falls for Fred's son Jimmy (David Paetkau).
There also constant references to the hippie couple's promiscuity; incidents with Woody's dog, Yoko, and Mitch that don't quite cut it as funny; and one scene in which Mitch and Woody's sons are inexplicably held in rapt attention by the sight of their older sisters mudwrestling. (Did the writers not realize the boys were watching their own siblings?)
The generally wooden acting doesn't help matters. Reinhold can't seem to wipe a silly smirk off his face for the first 45 minutes or so, Cranston is manic to the point of annoyance and the rest of the Sniders seem as if they're reading cue cards.
National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Reunion, a formulaic comedy in which the formula falls flat, bows Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.