Among the film's haphazardly assembled hip-hop cast are Original Kings of Comedy Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey, former Miss America Vanessa Williams, rapper-turned-actor Bow Wow (now minus the Lil') and Solange Knowles (inexpensive little sister of singing sensation Beyonce Knowles).
The film shamelessly steals its plot from National Lampoon's Vacation. Unfortunately, it steals its sense of humor from National Lampoon's European Vacation. Cedric plays a square insurance salesman, the head of an upper middle-class California clan planning to make a cross-country trek to a family reunion in Missouri. Packed into the family's pimped-out Lincoln Navigator (don't ask) are his estranged wife (Williams), his wannabe rapper son (Bow Wow), his sexy teenage daughter (Knowles) and his youngest daughter (little Gabby Soleil, so superfluous and cute she might as well have been imported from “The Cosby Show”).
The script, penned by first-time feature writers Earl Richey Jones and Todd R. Jones (creators of the short-lived Tone Loc cartoon “C-Bear and Jamal”), stitches together 90 minutes worth of random roadblocks and hopes for the best.
The Johnsons pick up a sexy teenage hitchhiker (totally out-of-place Shannon Elizabeth), who turns out to be weird (and is quickly dumped from the plot). They stop off at an Indian casino (a detour that goes nowhere at all). They get arrested in Kansas (where, apparently, cops throw men, women and six-year-old kids into the same jail cell). They get chased by an evil trucker straight out of Duel, leading to an unfunny and totally illogical punch line at the film's climax. They stop off at a roadside diner where the cook—get this—doesn't wash his hands after taking a poop. … These are the jokes, folks.
Eventually, the clan arrives in Missouri where they must go head-to-head against Mr. Johnson's ultra-competitive brother (Steve Harvey) for the “family of the year” trophy. There, we get the film's sole attempt at tension, a musical montage of sack races, wheelbarrow races and lip-synching contests straight out of “The Brady Bunch.”
Music video director Christopher Erskin demonstrates no measurable skill with his first feature film outing. From start to finish, the direction is undisciplined and the pacing is terrible. Nearly all the film's jokes are wrecked by lethargic timing. Erskin isn't at all aided by amateurs like Bow Wow, who muffs every punch line handed to him. Cedric, who has been at his uncensored best in the Barbershop films, does what little he can here. But the script gives him such a neutered character and such bland situations that he's often left searching desperately for laughs. One scene, which strands him in a hotel hot tub without a bathing suit, goes on forever. Eventually—how's this for hilarious?—he gets up and leaves. Williams is classy as always, but isn't given any jokes to tell.
If you're a rabid fan of Cedric the Entertainer and are desperate to see him in anything and everything, then Johnson Family Vacation is certainly … um, something. For everybody else, you'll probably get more entertainment out of a crowded car trip across country with your own boring family than you will from this limp, effortless situation comedy.