Review: ‘Vacation Friends’

John Cena Steals The Show Hulu's Raucous, Funny, And Lightweight Summer Comedy

If you thought John Cena was hilarious as the brutal Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad just wait until you experience him in Vacation Friends. The new Hulu comedy from director Clay Tarver is a perfect showcase for Cena and how perfectly suited he is for the raunchy R-rated space, playing off his good-boy image and intimidating/welcoming physique. He gives off serious “dude bro” energy here and shows a willingness to do anything if it makes audiences smile. While he’s not chugging beers through his ass like in Blockers, Cena keeps us laughing so much it’ll help you forget how boring and drone-like he was in F9. No more dull action movies for him, please. Comedy is where it’s at.

Vacation Friends, believe it or not, has been hanging around since 2014 when it was originally to star then-married couple Chris Pratt and Anna Faris. A number of things have changed with it over the years, but I quite like that their roles fell on Cena and co-star Meredith Hagner (Search Party), who play cliff-diving, gun-toting, cocaine snorting duo Ron and Kyla. They totally hijack the planned romantic Mexico getaway for the straight-laced Marcus and his girlfriend Emily, played Lil Rel Howery and Insecure‘s Yvonne Orji. While it takes some convincing, and a healthy amount of drugs (“Why doesn’t the salt on these margaritas taste salty?”,  “Because it’s cocaine.”), the two totally mismatched couple have an epic week that finds Ron and Kyla in their unhinged comfort zone and Marcus and Emily cutting loose like never before. When the whole thing is over, the latter are eager to get back to their normal lives, plan a simple wedding ceremony, and forget that Mexico ever happened.

“You guys are in our lives now. That’s never gonna change”, Ron says. He means it, sincerely, earnestly. It’s sorta scary. He and Kyla are super clingy. They can’t let go of anything or anybody. This isn’t going to end, is it?

Of course not, they literally come crashing into the wedding party and before long it’s awkward Best Man speeches and weird drugs being given to grandma. Marcus and Emily just want that vacation part of their lives to be a distant memory, but it’s right here in front of them and threatens to ruin their perfectly-careful lives. It could be the set up for a Jordan Peele-esque social horror movie with these irresponsible white people bulldozing their way into the lives of respectable, if incredibly snobby, Black folks just trying to move on. The stakes for Vacation Friends are pretty low and the jokes are predictable if you’ve seen anything in the Wedding Crashers or Couples Retreat vein. It’ll come as no surprise that there’s more to Ron and Kyla than meets the eye, and it will be revealed with enough melodrama to match the film’s gonzo energy. Such is the way of co-writers John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation, Horrible Bosses), part of an army of five screenwriters working with director Clay Tarver, best known as a showrunner on Silicon Valley.

They really don’t make buddy comedies like Vacation Friends too often anymore. Long gone are the Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn pairings, and anything that comes close has to be dressed up with Hobbs & Shaw/Hitman’s Bodyguard levels of vulgarity and violence. In a way it makes this feel like a throwback when movies had only a single agenda and that’s to entertain. In the pandemic era when these films are even scarcer, there’s something refreshing about that.

Not just because he’s the size of a freakin’ house, Cena engulfs every single scene he’s in. As Ron he’s just such a huge presence, always on the edge of doing something totally insane, saying the exact wrong thing at the worst moment, or grabbing someone in for a big bear hug. He’s like a gigantic teddy bear that’s always buzzing. Hagner is just as manic as the oversharing Kyla. Together she and Cena create this perfectly imperfect couple who would be terrible for anybody else in the world, but are just right for one another. Howery, who just finished playing the wizened pal to Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy, settles into the uptight straight man role comfortably, while Orji’s role as Emily gets the short shrift, a common occurrence for women in comedies aimed at men.

Fortunately, Vacation Friends isn’t looking to be an unwelcome guest. It’s the kind of film that is there for a good time, not for a long time, but is there if you ever want to recall that moment Cena got stoned on mushrooms and went on a fox hunt. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen in every day life, only during vacay.

Vacation Friends is available on Hulu now.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Vacation Friends
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.