Vacation Friends (streaming on Hulu) is one of those raunchy comedies where people who don’t seem like they should even be in the same room together meet through circumstance and begin to bond despite many awkward situations. It cycles through this basic plot twice; first, briefly, then in longer form with higher stakes. The formula is fine, the cast is game, yet the movie isn’t very funny. The characters are one-note stereotypes, the punch-lines are obvious and, worst of all, I never truly believed these two couples felt anything for each other. The result isn’t necessarily bad, per se; it is just boring and instantly forgettable.
Marcus and Emily are uptight. Ron and Kyla are free-spirits. The mismatched couples meet in Mexico when Marcus proposes to Kyla and end up spending a wild, drug/alcohol-soaked week together. When the trip is over, Marcus and Emily are happy to leave the spontaneous couple behind. Then, seven months later, Ron and Kyla crash their fancy wedding and shenanigans ensue.
Lil Rel Howery and John Cena are somewhat amusing together as stuffy Marcus and oblivious Ron. Meredith Hagner has a couple of decent moments as Kyla. Sadly, Hagner and Yvonne Orji (as Emily) don’t get nearly as much to do as the men. Even then, all four of them are playing outlines who exist purely to help the screenplay get from one wacky scene to the next. Howery’s discomfort and Cena’s excitability work a little bit, but they can only take things so far. Eventually the story needs to be engaging and the jokes need to be funny.
Admittedly, I did smile a few times. However, the characters themselves are too thin for the gags to really come from them. That means they have to come out of the situations, which just aren’t very interesting. A fox hunt gone wrong, an embarrassing toast, gambling on the golf course: none of this stuff is inherently funny and it all goes pretty much exactly as you’d expect. There are no clever twists or original ideas. It is like the five credited screenwriters were given the premise and then each wrote the most cliché scenario they could think of to fit it into. That level of predictability in a comedy can be overcome when the audience is able to care about the characters. That is difficult to do here.
Vacation Friends is not terrible. It didn’t make me mad. Howery, Orji, Cena and Hagner are likable enough as performers to keep things watchable. But the movie doesn’t work as hard as they do. The filmmakers essentially let the characters and story write itself. The final product feels like it came off of an assembly line. This is already Lil Rel Howery’s seventh movie so far this year. Of the five I have seen, I’d rank it near the bottom, ahead of Tom and Jerry and about even with Bad Trip (though that one is more entertaining). John Cena is currently in theaters in The Suicide Squad, which I definitely recommend over this if you are looking for an adult comedy. Both of them will surely continue to get a lot of work in the years to come. When people discuss their filmographies, I doubt anyone will mention Vacation Friends.
2 out of 5
Lil Rel Howery as Marcus
Yvonne Orji as Emily
John Cena as Ron
Meredith Hagner as Kyla
Robert Wisdom as Harold
Directed by Clay Tarver
Written by Tom Mullen, Tim Mullen. Clay Tarver, Johnathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley