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The PAM-10: Best Road Trip Comedies

The road trip offers no better way to physically manifest the journey of a character(s) in a film. From criminals on the run from the law to best friends making a cross-country trek in a van, travel has permeated the movies for decades.

With Due Date coming out tomorrow pairing comedians Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr., I thought the right thing to do would be to focus on the road-trip films that have tickled our funny bones over the years. It’s hard to talk about road trips and leave off Thelma & Louise, Almost Famous and True Romance, but this post will celebrate the often ridiculous shenanigans that can happen when two or more people hit the road. The films might not always be great (or good, for that matter), but you're sure to remember them. 

10. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Ah, the stoner comedy. Considering White Castle is not nearly as prolific a fast food chain as McDonald’s, it’s an adventure just to get to one. Such was the case when I was in college though apparently they’ve just built a new one. Anyway, such is the premise — kind of — for “Harold and Kumar.” If the two could only have curbed their appetite for the wacky weed as well, they wouldn’t have found themselves running from Princeton security guards, a rabid raccoon and Neil Patrick Harris. The cameo did put NPH in a place where he would regain notoriety, however, and you must give credit to this film for being the only road trip comedy to go the multi-ethnic route. John Cho and Kal Penn are a strong dynamic duo and made “Harold and Kumar” more than DVD bargain-bin quality. “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” was raunchier but not as good and soon we will be treated to “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas.”

9. Dogma (1999)

Kevin Smith’s religion-infused satire brings a different sense of humor the to the road trip comedy as God seemingly handpicks a woman to stop two angels, Loki and Bartleby (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), from entering a New Jersey church in order to have their sins forgiven and consequently be able to re-enter heaven. God’s infallibility is on the line and when Alan Rickman tells you to go, you go. On her way to New Jersey, Bethany encounters Jay and Silent Bob as well as the 13th Apostle, the black one that got left out — Chris Rock. I don’t find the movie all that funny, but the philosophical conversation and the satire is pretty unbeatable and hence the film is easy to enjoy.

8. EuroTrip (2004)

Of all those early 2000s road trip films, I’ve gone with my personal favorite, EuroTrip. There’s mostly non-automobile travel in this film, but whatever, it manages to be pleasantly memorable in spite of the obvious shortcomings. One of those shortcomings is definitely not a cameo by a head-shaved Matt Damon playing the guy banging our main character Scotty’s high school sweetheart (Kristen Kreuk) and then singing about it in the timeless “Scotty Doesn’t Know.” The film is full of strange characters and situations the gang (Scott Mechlowitz, Michelle Trachtenberg, Travis Wester, Jacob Pitts) encounter from the creepy Italian on the train (Fred Armisen), Vinnie Jones as a Man U hooligan, Lucy Lawless as the manager of a torture sex club, etc. Add in hash brownies, nude beaches, brother-sister awkwardness and a burning papal hat and EuroTrip works the formula pretty well.

7. Tommy Boy (1995)

If Chris Farley had never passed, who knows where the duo of he and David Spade would’ve ranked in the comedy world. “Tommy Boy” was by far their best collaboration, the story of the idiot son of a break pads king whose father dies and leaves the company in turmoil. Tommy (Farley), with the help of his father’s longtime assistant Richard (David Spade), ventures out to make some sales and save the company and its workers from getting laid off. The idiot humor of Farley plays excellently with the sarcasm and insult humor of Spade. “Tommy Boy” features a classic deer-hitting-car scene among others.

6. Rat Race (2001)

One of my guilty pleasures is this remake of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World directed by comedy legend Jerry Zucker (Airplane!). The film features all the comic actors who washed up in the ’90s: Jon Lovitz, Whoopi Goldberg, Rowan Atkinson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Wayne Knight — and then there’s Breckin Meyer, Seth Green and Amy Smart. All are rounded up by an infamous Las Vegas casino owner (John Cleese) to take part in a race for a briefcase of money, all for the cause of sport for Cleese and his gamble-happy colleagues. The film sets up some highly memorable and amusing situations, such as Lovitz going from being in his car with his family to mimicking Adolf Hitler before a crowd of WWII vets. The film bounces well between all the ludicrous plotlines.

5. Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) pretty much embodied the idiot humor of the ’90s. For good reason, the Farrelly brothers skyrocketed to fame with their debut feature, later following it up with Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself and Irene. The toilet humor in “D&D” is simply insurmountable. Not sure that phrase makes sense, but I feel it’s accurate. In a common theme with these films, the two numbskulls head off on the road because of a woman (in this case to return her briefcase). The hi-jinx include urinating in beer bottles, spitting in burgers and putting laxatives in tea. Nowadays, this movie would be crap (as proven by Dumb and Dumberer the re-cast sequel), but for then, it was an instant classic and that’s how it’s remembered.

4. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

They don’t get more iconic than this film starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Due Date essentially isthis movie as it’s about a two strangers befriending each other in order to get home in time for something. In Due Date, it’s the birth of a child, in “Planes,” it’s a family tradition that can’t be missed in Thanksgiving dinner. Martin plays the businessman whose flight ends up emergency landing in Wichita and so he hitchhikes along with a shower curtain ring salesman who is well-meaning but has some obnoxious habits. Needless to say, it takes a long time for them to get home (and get along). They constantly try and lose each other but always find their way back together. The film is one of the many John Hughes classics and as such it is just as endearing as it is funny.

3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Certainly the most unique of the films on this list, Little Miss Sunshine emerged from the indie circuit as a big and popular favorite, especially because of Steve Carell’s involvement (he was huge in 2006, more so than now). The film follows a family’s road trip in an old VW Bus to take the youngest daughter to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. The family members can’t stand each other, but the dreams of the little girl force them to gut it out. With Carell is Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Toni Collette, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film took could have been a typical Hollywood comedy premise, but Oscar-winner Michael Arndt’s screenplay and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris turned it into something much more subtly humorous and simply golden.

2. Borat: Cultural Learnings from America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

“Borat” doesn’t quickly register as one of the best road trip comedies ever because so much more than the road trip are the individual scenes, memorable quotes and the biting satire. At the same time, this is possibly more of a road trip film than any with Borat (Sacha Baren Cohen) and his right-hand man, Azamat, traveling westward to see different parts of the country with the undercurrent of Borat hoping to meet and marry “Ms. Pamayla.” Memorable stops include a nice Southern home, a Texas rodeo and of course, Los Angeles — wow-wa-wee-wah. The glorious Kazakh’s cultural learnings easily rank among the top three comedies of the 21st Century thus far.

1. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

In this case, the oldest is the best. If your mind didn’t go right to the National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movies when you read the title of this post, then your movie IQ has a long way to go, my friend. Clark and Ellen Griswold’s (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo) family trip to Wally World was penned by John Hughes, directed by Harold Ramis and made road trip movies a staple of the family genre. The classic scenes are too numerous, but one of the highlights that would receive many an homage in future movies (including the aforementioned Rat Race is Clark spotting Christie Brinkley on the road next to them in her Ferrari and consequently driving off the side of the road. Then there’s Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddy, one of the more memorable characters of the whole “Vacation” series. Though the sequels never quite reached the same level, Vacation has to be an all time great comedy in addition to the best of road trip movies.


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