It was only a matter of time before National Lampoon’s Vacation got dusted off and trotted back out to theaters, but with the rumors that Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo would be returning as Clark and Ellen only to take a backseat to the misadventures of their son Rusty Griswold and his family, this is more sequel than out-and-out remake. It’s also an important project for Ed Helms who has yet to, well, helm a blockbuster comedy on his name alone. Helms has perfected a kind of geeky nebbish who can snap into a high-strung animal under pressure, and you can see him pulling off the scary kind of “I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun” speech that Chase gives toward the end of the first film when there’s no hope left for the Griswold vacation.
But the bigger question remains: which Rusty is Helms playing? Every Vacation movie has swapped out the kids, and with Helms in the role, the reboot is no exception. But, could it be possible that one of the previous Rustys actually grew up into the man played by Ed Helms? Let’s take a look...
The Anthony Michael Hall Rusty from National Lampoon’s Vacation
The greatest of all Rustys is the first Rusty. He’s fiercely loyal to his father, antagonistic to his sister, and the closest to a regular kid that the series has (other than that moment when he shotguns an entire beer in a matter of seconds). I have no idea how that translates into adulthood, but that’s Helms' job. I don’t think Hall’s brace-faced Rusty would grow up to be much like his father, though; I think he’d be more like his mother Ellen. Based on Helms’ established comic persona, I’d bet that Helms is going to be Clark Griswold 2.0 -- an optimistic nerd whose bullheaded determination to show his family a good time eventually drives him a little mad.
Defining characteristics: Listens to the Ramones, thinks all black people know the Commodores, loves video games, Cubs fan (because John Hughes was a Cubs fan).
The Jason Lively Rusty from National Lampoon’s European Vacation
This Rusty is the Rosetta Stone to discovering Rusty’s intended age. European Vacation takes place in 1985, and Rusty states that he is 15 years old. That would make the Hall Rusty from the first film a 13 year old, which seems reasonable. Ed Helms was born in 1974, which means he was eleven in 1985, making him too young to play the Lively Rusty (and in turn, too young to be the Hall Rusty).
And does Lively Rusty have any Helmsian traits? Not really. Lively Rusty is the most typical all-American Hollywood version of a teenager in the series, a bit of an annoying whiner who gets drunk and entertains hookers when his parents’ backs are turned. I could, however, see Helms as the kind of kid who would wear a Dobie Gillis tee, much like Lively Rusty does.
Defining characteristics: Listens to hair metal, doesn’t like Europe, wears checkered bike caps and Dobie Gillis T-shirts, fantasizes about discotheques.
The Johnny Galecki Rusty from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Galecki’s Rusty may as well be set dressing and not an actual actor. He shows up to keep continuity between the films and to deliver very important lines about not knowing where certain Christmas decorations are. We do learn that Rusty is a Blackhawks fan, but even that bit of knowledge is boring -- the Blackhawks are the Chicago home team. Of course, he’s a fan.
Astute observers will note that this is the film where Rusty ages backward like some John Hughes version of Benjamin Button. Galecki was 14 when the film was released, meaning that between 1985 and 1989, Rusty Griswold actually de-aged by one year. Surprisingly, Galecki himself is just a year younger than Helms.
Defining characteristics: None.
The Ethan Embry Rusty from Vegas Vacation
Perhaps Embry was trying to bridge the gap between Lively’s world-wise Rusty and Hall’s more realistic kid version of Rusty. He’s childlike and enthusiastic, but also the most criminal of all the Rustys, dabbling in identity theft and underage gambling. Embry might seem like the strangest Rusty on the list -- a grinning criminal who receives no real punishment for breaking the law -- but remember, the Griswolds have gotten away with breaking and entering, kidnapping, animal cruelty and destruction of private property with just a smile and a handshake. Maybe Embry’s Rusty best exemplifies the Griswold experience?
Embry was 21 playing a teen in 1997, aging just a few years from Christmas to Vegas despite the eight-year gap, like some kind of Griswoldian mummy.
Defining characteristics: Gambling addiction, identity thief, wears almost nothing but Izod, supports legalized prostitution.
So, which Rusty is Ed Helms? From an age standpoint, he’s clearly Galecki, but there’s no way Helms will be as big of a void in the film as Galecki was. From an attitude standpoint, Helms is likely to be all Clark, so which Rusty is the most like Clark? None of them, really. The real answer is that Helms will be just like all the other Rustys -- a character with absolutely no ties to any of the previous Vacation films.