Vacation Friends Review: A Wannabe-Raucous Comedy That Falls Flat

Would a movie like "Vacation Friends" exist if it wasn't for the COVID-19 pandemic? It's a strange question to ask, the kind of backwards notion that has become commonplace over the last 18 months. While the script for this wannabe-raucous comedy existed before the pandemic hit, the notion of a film that primarily takes place in two away-from-home locations with a limited cast probably became more appealing to a movie studio looking to make something, and make it for not much money. "Vacation Friends" no doubt fits a hole in the spreadsheets for the Walt Disney Company; it's from 20th Century Studios and is being released on Hulu today. But it's not a good movie.

Though the premise seems distinctive enough, it owes something of a debt to '90s comedies like "What About Bob?" and "The Cable Guy." The first third or so of "Vacation Friends" takes place in Mexico, as Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) aim to enjoy a trip south of the border and things go wrong almost instantly. Their fancy suite is ruined due to the wild behavior of the people in the room above theirs: Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), who are loud, uncouth, and obnoxious in the way that people tend to be in R-rated comedies. Marcus' plan to propose to Emily hits a brief snag, but after she accepts, Ron and Kyla invite the couple to join them in their massive suite for the whole week. But months later, when Marcus and Emily get ready for their wedding weekend, they're horrified that Ron and Kyla have crashed their nuptials.

So the basic premise is, what if someone (or in this case, two someones) didn't get the hint and kept forcing themselves into your life, always to disastrous ends? Marcus is already trying to assuage his soon-to-be father-in-law Harold (Robert Wisdom), a task that gets harder when Harold inexplicably is charmed by Ron, if for no other reason than their both being military veterans. "Vacation Friends" is primarily the kind of comedy that presumes raunch for raunch's sake equals humor. And maybe with a different cast, that could've worked. In the hands of Jim Carrey, "The Cable Guy" is venomous but still darkly humorous. In the hands of Bill Murray, "What About Bob?" is nightmarishly hilarious.

A Comedy That Tries Too Hard

It's nothing against either Lil Rel Howery or John Cena (Orji and Hagner are more than just stock romantic interests, but they're still given a lot less material), who have both proven before that they're extremely funny performers. Howery has stood out since he got the funniest lines in "Get Out," and Cena was part of the tremendously effective ensemble to the underrated "Blockers." They're funny enough, in the right roles. Howery fits in more as the henpecked Marcus, who cannot catch an even break no matter how hard he tries and also has the terrifying notion that he may be the father of Kyla's child (conceived during the wild, drug-fueled weekend in Mexico), which he tries to keep from Emily for obvious reasons. Cena, however, never quite feels right as Ron. The little details are just as hard to swallow as the bigger choices Ron makes; we're told through visual cues that Ron is wild. See, he has to be, because his hair is a little spikier than usual! That's just crazy!

Good comedies don't have to try so hard, but "Vacation Friends" – directed by Clay Tarver, who co-wrote the script along with four other credited screenwriters – has its gears grinding from the word go. Comedies with such wildly mismatched characters only work when the comedy acknowledges how mismatched they are, instead of acting as if everyone's supposed to be friends in the end. There is inevitably a blow-up or two between the main quartet, and when Marcus and Emily list out the litany of offenses that Ron and Kyla have committed – everything from secretly dosing Emily's grandma with homeopathic drugs to slipping cocaine into people's beverages – it's impossible to swallow that these four will be friendly again before the credits roll. At least "The Cable Guy" had the good sense to realize that the eponymous character is a true terror and should be avoided at all costs.

Maybe a comedy like this would work more effectively if you saw it in a theater (or, more precisely, if you felt safe enough to see a movie in a crowded theater right now). But "Vacation Friends" is headed straight for Hulu. Even if you invite over some friends of yours (hopefully actual friends who don't spike your drink just for kicks, but hey, you do you), it's hard to envision "Vacation Friends" having the same impact on a television screen, let alone a laptop or a mobile device. If indeed "Vacation Friends" appealed to 20th Century Studios because it would enable a tight-knit crew and cast to work in a lower budget in fewer settings, it's odd that Disney is just carting it to streaming. "Vacation Friends" probably wouldn't work that well in a movie theater, but at least there, you'd have the potential of infectious laughter. At home, "Vacation Friends" falls totally flat.

/Film Rating: 3 out of 10