‘Vacation Friends’ is Funny yet Forgettable

Disclaimer: This movie is rated R for crude sexual references, coarse language, and drug content- topics of which are referenced in this review.

This slapstick, ribald comedy is one of the only mainstream features in recent memory to cast a POC couple as main characters – and even then, John Cena and Meredith Hagner become the stars of the show. 


Right off the bat, let me say this: 

Parents- don’t watch this movie with your kids. 

Kids- don’t watch this movie with your parents. 

(Left to Right) Meredith Hagner, Yvonne Orji, Lil Rel Howery, John Cena

Marcus and Emily (Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji) meet an eccentric couple after a proposal getaway that goes awry in Mexico. Ron and Kyla (Cena, Hagner) introduce the uptight couple to seven fun-filled days of living life to the extreme during their stay. When it’s time to return to the real world, Marcus is ready to leave all of the shenanigans-and secrets- behind him and prepare for his pending nuptials… Ron and Kyla have different plans, and will stop at nothing, including crashing the wedding, to relive the magic from their vacation. 

The bulk of this comedy relies on decently clever one-liners, goofy antics, and an excessive reliance on outlandish sex-centered plot lines and drug use to separate itself from a light-hearted family comedy. An enthusiastic cast delivers on all of these jumping-off points- but can only go so far before they begin to fall flat.  Feeling more like a two-hour version of a sitcom episode, the charm and likability that are so integral to the success of a film of this genre phases in and out as the plot trickles forward, complete with easy pay-offs and predictable resolutions. 

Judging by the spirited performance of each cast member- lead and supporting, it really seems as though they would have been up to the task of carrying a comedy with a little more meat on its bones. Unfortunately, they aren’t really given the opportunity with this script. My theory? This particular storyline would have benefitted from a looser, improvisational approach where Howery, Orji, Hagner and Cena are given the basic beats of the story they need to hit- and run wild with the rest. The energy is definitely there – not the content. It is clear that “freshness” is not the goal of this film. 

What is refreshing is seeing Lil Rel Howery finally graduate from “sidekick/best friend” territory. The wacky adventure follows Marcus and Emily from their point of view: running into and ultimately trying to avoid their new “friends”. Howery plays the tried and true ‘Straight Man’ who is consistently the unwilling accomplice to Cena’s reckless ideas of fun. Their reluctant bromance is what carries the weight of the sentimentality factor that gives this film heart. As a result of the absolute lunacy that Cena and Hagner bring to the table, Howery and Orji are shuffled off to the sidelines- because they become, by default, less interesting. In a film where a Black couple is framed to be the lead characters, they still managed to get shafted.

While this film doesn’t entirely stand out amongst the many other raunchy summer-release comedies, it definitely fits the bill for a Friday night after a long, hard week. It has its fun moments, a so-so attempt at inclusivity and enough vacation partying to make up for everything we missed during the pandemic. There are some moments that intentionally (hopefully) mock White Privilege, and a conscious effort is made to show POC characters from esteemed, affluent backgrounds; and as equally hard-working, caring business people. The repetitive pitfall of this film is that the entire basis of the plot is “we were blackout drunk”- if the characters can’t even remember what is happening throughout the majority of the film, how are we as an audience supposed to find it memorable?

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