This movie is a 1988 made for TV sequel to A Christmas Story. It follows the daily antics of the Parker family as they get ready for the annual trip to Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. The Haven of Bliss is a grouping of rental cabins on Clear Lake in Northern Michigan.
This movie is like the offspring of an alternate reality quantum physics time vortex. First of all, I remember how mind blasting it was several years ago to learn of this movie's existence. Then, when you stop and look at all of the different parts that come together like a theater sized bag of Butterfinger BBs to complete this story your mind is truly blown. That's roughly what discovering this movie is like.
Watching this movie on the other hand is like watching your elementary school burn down. I say that because the experience is nothing but conflicting emotions. At times you're laughing happily at the warm familiar jibes from the narrative voice of writer/creator Jean Shepherd. At other times it's so lacking that you just want it to end as quickly as possible. What I'm going to try to do is a tall order. I'm going to attempt to give you a thorough recanting of the whole tale since I'm pretty sure most of you will never get to see this. If you'd rather just see my conclusion just skip to the last paragraph.
It goes like this. The story begins as the narrator (14 year old Ralph, played by Jean Sheperd) remembers the morning the family left to go on vacation. It involves a lot of Ralph's mother (played by Dorothy Lyman who was Naomi on Momma's Family) shouting about it being time to get up and that breakfast is ready. There is a reference to the Sears radio and how it constantly distributed shocks to whomever touched it. Then Mrs. Parker makes Ralph (played by Jerry O'Connell from Sliders) help Randy (played by a cardboard standee) undo the knot in the drawstring of his pajamas at 4 AM because she?s busy making eggs. Ralph complains but he really has no choice. The narrator then explains that the vacation almost didn't happen, citing a weeks old incident involving Fuzz Head (the dog).
The movie then cuts away to Flick (played by a lump of iron ore), Schwartz (played by a sheet of paper), and Ralph waiting in line at the Indiana State Employment Office for their illusive "working papers" that they need to get a job. Once presented with them they eagerly sign them and search the job board for work. It cuts away to Mr. Parker (played by James Sikking from Star Trek III) and his buddies having a beer together after work. All of them are discussing their vacation plans for the summer. We then see Mrs. Parker preparing meatloaf for dinner and the narrator compares her meatloaf making abilities to the long ball hitting of Ted Williams. Then Randy complains that his "duck is stuck in the drain" and that the "water won't go out." Little did I realize that this was only the first of MANY MANY scenes where Randy's complaining is so annoying that it seriously makes you consider "letting of some steam" by impaling his scrawny ass to a tank with a jagged pipe like Arnold Schwarzenegger did to Bennett at the end of Commando.
What happens next is one of the funniest running jokes of the whole first half of the movie. Mrs. Parker yells "FUZZ HEAD, FUZZ HEAD" out the backdoor at the top of her lungs trying to find their missing dog. The exact whereabouts of Fuzz Head remain unknown for weeks, right up until the vacation.
The next scene shows the three boys at their first job interview at Scott's Used Furniture Palace. The owner, Scott, is played by Jean Shepard wearing a false beard and the narrator remembers Scott's appearance as a cross between Rasputin and the Wolfman. Without any interview whatsoever Scott hires the boys on the promise that they are ready to work and put their shoulders up against the wheel. We immediately see the boys at work; struggling mightily to heft a monstrous object up the stairs. Ralph goes on to have nightmares about lifting the un-described object up the stairs forever. After a few weeks of trying to lift the huge object up the stairs Ralph and the boys are fired but he tells the family that he quit so that he could go on vacation with them.
In the next scene Mrs. Parker calling the police because Fuzz Head hasn't come home yet. Mr. Parker comes home and she threatens to cancel the vacation if Fuzz Head doesn't come home before it's time for them to leave. So the ambitious Mrs. Parker prints up fliers and places them all over town featuring Fuzz Head's picture, and the promise of a reward. This leads to the entire neighborhood turning out at the Parker residence with dogs, attempting to claim the reward. None of them are Fuzz Head. Then one day Mr. and Mrs. Parker are out driving and see Fuzz Head riding with a rich lady in a Rolls Royce. They chase the Rolls back to a posh estate where Fuzz Head has been living the good life this whole time. An exchange of words and $5 puts Fuzz Head back in the hands of the Parkers but not before a hilarious dream sequence involving Fuzz Head eating gourmet meals by the pool.
With the subplot out of the way the story jumps back to the beginning where everyone is eating breakfast at 4 AM. Mr. Parker discovers that he is out of cigarettes and the cantankerous grumblings of rage he spews are meant to be funny. We then see the family going over their insane checklist of items to bring along with them on the trip as they pack "the Chevy" well past its intended design. As they are about to hit the road the starter spring gets stuck and Mr. Parker rocks his body up and down on the bumper to jar it back into position. Finally, they hit the road!
About 5 seconds into the trip Randy complains that he has to go. DIE RANDY!!! What happens next is pretty funny. Mr. Parker reaches into the glove box for a map of Michigan and retracts his hand in disgust when he finds nothing but gooey chocolate and nuts instead. The narrator goes down the list of possible perpetrators but none of them seem to make any sense. He goes on to explain that the chocolate bar in the glove box remains an unsolved family mystery to this day.
Mere moments after that Randy says that he's getting car sick and that they need to pull over. They pull over and Mrs. Parker leads him to a bush where he blows chunks. The narrator jokes about how it makes no sense that his kid brother would never eat anything but always get car sick. Mr. Parker is forced to jump up and down on the bumper again to reset the starter spring before they can get back on the road. They waste some time playing road games and then something awful happens. Mrs. Parker sees a "Hooked Rug" sale and makes them stop the car. She spends some time there and for some reason the hooked rug person doesn't want to sell any rugs but instead gives her a dozen eggs? While this is going on Randy complains that his foot is asleep and that he doesn't know what to do. By then I already wanted him dead.
When they get back on the road Mrs. Parker is beaming about how well the trip is going and just as she reaches her crescendo of praise they get a flat tire. In a very amusing reference to A Christmas Story Ralph asks "Can I help" to which Mr. Parker replies "Are you kidding?" What bolsters the effect is the use of climactic music which plays as Mr. Parker sees the flat tire and again when he kicks it in anger. The next disaster that befalls them is that they run out of gas. This happens because Mr. Parker is waiting to fill up at a Texas Royal Supreme Blue station since they "sponsor the White Sox games". This leads to a lengthy walk to a gas station and back.
Once they get back on the road Mrs. Parker offers everyone an apple. Randy makes a whiny sound and throws his apple into a random corner of the car. They stop at a gas station so Randy can pee, AGAIN, and they find that the station owner is the proud master of Luke the mears hound. Luke is not shown but they play troubling sound effects. Everyone who sees Luke goes running in fear including Mr. Parker.
After they leave the gas station Mrs. Parker hands out popcorn to everyone. Randy complains that Ralph got more that he did and Ralph starts a brawl in the backseat. Somehow this leads to reckless driving which causes the Chevy to overheat so they pull over and have a picnic. For some reason Mr. Parker insists on drinking pickle juice straight from the jar. NASTY! Then Randy starts complaining again because Ralph took the last tomato. Ralph pitches it at him in disgust but Randy throws it right back. The joy an outdoor picnic is squelched when the rest of the family finds out they only have Salmon Salad Surprise sandwiches left. Randy loses it, exclaims that he wants a PB&J, and throws his "dumb old sandwich" into the street. This clear act of rebellion goes unpunished.
The next misfortune shows the Parker family losing their way because of a poorly placed road sign. This makes Mr. Parker drive around in circles and takes them to a farm way off the beaten path. When they finally find the road again they hit a huge hole and all of their stuff goes flying off the top of the car. Right after that Mrs. Parker makes them stop at "Grannie's Olde Log Cabin" which is a lawn art emporium. The narrator goes on to say that it's amazing how you will buy things on vacation that you wouldn't even consider buying at home. Randy and Ralph chase each other around while Mrs. Parker becomes quite smitten with a Dutch Windmill. Somehow she convinces Mr. Parker to buy it and they strap it to the roof of the car along with everything else. Immediately after that they are driving along and get stuck behind a truck hauling chickens. This part makes you want to kill someone. There is nothing but flying feathers, bad jokes, and eggs hitting the car for minutes on end.
Just as they are about to get to Clear lake a bee somehow gets loose in the car and everyone freaks out. They stop the car and go running in all directions. Later on Mr. Hopnoodle will reference that he too has been attacked by the very same bee. FINALLY!!! They arrive at Clear lake. They stop at the front office and say hi to Mr. Hopnoodle. Mr. Parker asks how the fish are biting and Mr. Hopnoode tells him that they were biting everything in sight last week but they aren't biting anything now. After a few kind exchanges and visible signs of relief that they all have arrived they get back in the car and drive up to Marie, their cabin. As soon as the car stops Randy goes off running, toting his audible whine all the way to the outhouse. Mrs. Parker warns him to look out for spiders but he still yells that there are spiders in there. They start to unload the car and of course Randy doesn't help very much. Mr. Parker tells Ralph to unload the trunk in much the same way he asked Ralph to check for a present in the corner which was his Red Rider BB Gun Rifle. Ralph finds that even though he forgot to pack all of the fishing gear Mr. Parker remembered to bring it. He is overjoyed. Mrs. Parker announces "The place is pretty clean, except for the ants." Ralph and Mr. Parker walk out onto the dock and the narrator explains that those were the only days of the year where Mr. Parker was truly free.
The next scene takes place late at night. It's pouring down rain and the roof is leaking like crazy. The narrator explains that it rained for two solid weeks but that it didn't matter because they were on vacation. There is a part where Ralph asks Mrs. Parker why Mr. Parker never calls him by his real name. Mrs. Parker assures him that it's just his way and that he loves him. There is a nostalgic from the narrator about vacations never being the same when you get older as they are when you're a kid. They pan out to the Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss sign just in time for lightning to strike and knock out the power. THE END.
DAMN that was long! Anyway I'm sure you'd like to hear my thoughts about the movie. Here is the strange part. I have some kind of cosmic link to this movie. I say that because the vacation destinations of my youth were very similar to Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. When I was a kid we stayed at a place called Scottie's Haven every year which was also a small grouping of cabins on a spring fed lake in Northern Michigan. Like in the movie the cabins we stayed at had names, most notably the "Heather." Also I know the freedom Jean Sheperd was talking about as I too experienced that up there.
Ok I'm wrapping it up now. I promise. This movie is the zaniest assortment of actors ever assembled. It's like someone took a freak'n bag full of names and just pulled out actors at random. Because of that fact the movie has next to zero chemistry which is a shame since I'm sure if this movie featured the original actors it'd be a household name. I don't think it would've been as popular as A Christmas Story given the source material but I do think people would remember it fondly. Whereas this movie is just simply forgotten. Which is a good thing since it isn't that great.
All I can tell you about this movie is that you should see it if you can if you're a diehard Jean Sheperd fan. Everyone else can skip this one. I know I wanted to skip it after I heard Randy complain about nothing for the millionth time. I so wanted to punch him in the eye, you have no idea. In fact I was tempted to learn enough flash to make a "Punch Randy in the Eye" game out of screens and sound effects. I think my rage has subsided though. Still it would be so satisfying.