Pig in a Poke is one of the most popular gameshows on American television, and the Griswald family have been lucky enough to appear on it. They are doing really well, too, having amassed plenty of prizes but will they take them home or will they gamble? The head of the family, Clark (Chevy Chase), ums and ahs while his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) presses him to take what they have already won, but he throws caution to the wind and tells the host (John Astin) they will play for the grand prize. That's when the all-time champions file on to contest the award, so can the Griswalds succeed now?
Yes they can, and their prize is, you guessed it, a European Vacation to complement their American Vacation which they had enjoyed (?) in the previous movie. That film had been a hit, so bringing everyone back together - though the children were replaced with Dana Hill and Jason Lively - for another go to recreate that magic, or at least those profits, of before seemed like an obvious idea. However, until the straight to video entries appeared European Vacation suffered the worst reputation of the series as Christmas Vacation became a holiday favourite in some households, but this was left neglected.
From the sound of it, audiences in actual Europe had every right to expect the worst, as even the title conjured up images of a series of lame stereotypes lasting an hour and a half, though at least an idea of how the Americans saw the cousins across the Pond would be gained, if that was what you really wanted. To their credit, the Griswalds (not Griswolds) were depicted as dumb tourists just as clichéd as the foreigners they encountered, so if nothing else John Hughes and Robert Klane's screenplay was an equal opportunities, er, lampooner (lampoonist?). What that didn't do was make it much funnier, as you'd pretty much seen it all before in the first movie.
There were occasional sequences which raised a smile, but really nothing to prompt belly laughs as it was a very conservative view of life put across, typical of a Hughes script, though here he wasn't aiming for anything more than gag after gag, with any other messages left for his teen movies. The Griswalds' first stop is London, where everyone is either a complete slob, as incarnated by Mel Smith's rundown hotel owner, or polite to a fault, as seen by the people Clark crashes into when he's trying to get the hang of driving on the other side of the road. They included Eric Idle, who gets knocked off his bike, the beginning of his career turn into appearing in slightly disappointing non-Python projects.
In France the locals take great delight insulting the holidaymakers since they cannot understand what they are saying, except we have the benefit of subtitles, plus Clark has his video camera stolen which just so happens to have the sex tape he made with Ellen back home still in it (plot foreshadowing). You are dreading what they'll come up with for Germany, but it turns out to be the most amusing part as the family barge into the house of distant relatives there, never realising they're in the wrong place but accomodated by the baffled couple nevertheless. This is also where Clark gets coaxed into joining one of those traditional dances, which ends in a riot when the knee slapping descends into him punching the performers' lights out. Last up, it was Italy where everyone evidently thought an action packed climax was in order, so the de rigueur chase sequence plays out when the family are fooled by criminals. It wasn't boring, but it was predictable as you basically knew how every scene would play out from its first few seconds. Music by Charles Fox (at least they brought back Holiday Road).