VACATION FRIENDS - Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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So, aside from the upcoming three-day holiday weekend, you’re ready to get your nose back on the ole’ grindstone, set aside those getaway pictures, and settle back into the colder months on the job or at school, or maybe both. Right? Well, this weekend’s new comedy doesn’t think that the outta’ town (or country) fun is quite over. It’s an exploration and for some of us (I’ll admit it) an explanation of the two-word catchphrase for the acquaintances you start while enjoying a recess from your regular life. And if they wouldn’t mesh with your friends back home, well, as that ad line says, “What happens (or who you hang with) in Vegas (or anyplace), stays in (that place)”. Of course, that’s not the case with this comic quartet of VACATION FRIENDS.

Hard-working Chicago construction company owner Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) is really psyched about the Mexico getaway with longtime girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji). Ah, but more than rest and relaxation is on his mind. Marcus is planning on proposing to Emily once they arrive at their four-star spa/resort. Now, the ride from the airport should’ve been a harbinger of things to come. Actually, that hint was the view as they observed a muscle-bound doofus driving a jet ski, recklessly speeding atop the water, while a blonde bimbo hangs on with one arm around his “eight pack” and the other arm working a vape device no doubt filled with local “herbs”. And yes, things go rapidly downhill as their booked room is utterly trashed due to a leaky ceiling. Heading back to the lobby and finding out that no other rooms are available, Marcus forges ahead with his plan and drops to one knee. A nearby couple is stunned by the site. After the “Yes!!”, Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) introduce themselves and impulsively invite the newly engaged couple to share their massive presidential suite. After some hesitation, Marcus reluctantly agrees and the two couples become “tied at the hip” “vacay pals” over the next few days. The quartet over-indulges in all manner of legal and illegal substances leading to a cliffside beach wedding ritual presided over by a local shaman, with Ron drafted as Best Man. Then things get even weirder and wilder hastening a quick return to the states. But not after Marcus promises to invite their new BFFs to their Atlanta wedding later. Cut to actually seven months later as a nervous Marcus tries to make amends with Emily’s wealthy family (they can’t stand him) at a pre-wedding dinner at her pop’s swanky country club. But the festivities are halted when a truck crashes through the fence. Surprise, it’s Ron and Kyla! Oh, and their unannounced destructive arrival is just the first of many shocks and surprises in store over the weekend for the already stressed-out Marcus.

The biggest “draw” for this flick is probably the busiest actor this past movie season (should we dub him “Mr. Summer 2021), John Cena as the aggressively gregarious knuckleheaded Ron. Yup, he’s a big doofus, but thankfully not a heavily armed and dangerous one like his last role as “The Peacemaker” in THE SUICIDE SQUAD. Cena plays him with the sweet-natured enthusiasm of an un-housebroken puppy. Even as the script hits a clunky, Cena attacks it with a grinning zeal. His energy level is matched by bouncy and blonde Hagner who imbues Kyla, often an annoying and abrasive “woo” girl, with a kind heart, though she’s really running her relationship (equal parts sweet and tough). And when Hagner puts on her “pout”, you know that some serious you-know-what’s goin’ down. And much of that’s directed at Marcus, who’s given an everyman attitude by Howery, though more sober and stoic than his Buddy in the big hit FREE GUY. Yes, he’s the straightest of straight men, but Howery still gets to deliver some scathing “burns’ almost under his breath. All this makes his gradual descent into explosive meltdowns truly epic. Plus there’s believable chemistry with his partner, Orji, as the incredibly patient and understanding Emily. She’s a staple partner for the often timid Marcus as she gently nudges him into action.

It’s quite an appealing foursome, so it’s tragic that they aren’t given stronger material. The cobbled-together script, credited to five, really, five writers lurches from one tired set-up and premise in search of THE HANGOVER style belly-laughs. Or at least a knowing chuckle at painfully awkward wedding situations. But it’s far removed from that trilogy, or even the MEET THE PARENTS flicks. Most of the supporting players in the wedding party are cardboard cliches (just why did Marcus punch Emily’s brother and when is the jerk gonna’ get over it). Cena’s destructive stunts have little repercussions (much as his role in F9 a couple of months ago), and many of his comic antics make little sense (the golf game fiasco). And please, Mr. Howery let’s avoid any more “tripping out” scenes for a while. In BAD TRIP he hallucinated in a grocery store and here he does the same during a “fox search” (don’t ask) and deals with an animal puppet that wouldn’t scare a toddler. It was an interesting idea to do a racial “flip” (in past films the minority couple would loosen up the stiff uptight white folks), but the concept wears thin as the film stumbles along to the happy (I was ecstatic it was over) fade-out. First-time feature director Clay Tarver does his best to let the jokes flow, but most of them don’t “stick the landing”. You just may need another “vacay” after spending time with these VACATION FRIENDS.

1 Out of 4

VACATION FRIENDS streams exclusively on Hulu beginning on Friday, August 27, 2021

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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