Review: ‘Vacation Friends 2’

John Cena Does His Best But Can't Save This Bad Trip Sequel

We often bemoan undeserving films that get sequels seemingly because the studio feels there’s supposed to be one. But Hulu had reason to want more of their surprise hit comedy, Vacation Friends, which had their biggest opening weekend audience ever for an original movie when it was released in summer 2021. And on paper, Vacation Friends 2 looks like more of the same raucous, unhinged vacay humor of the original, with John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Meredith Hagner, and Yvonne Orji going wild.

If only that were the case. What made the first film work so well was that the chaotic comedy was kept tight on the four central characters. You’ve got straight-laced Marcus and Emily (Howery and Orji) who just want to have a relaxing trip, and the twin force hurricanes Ron and Kyla (Cena and Hagner) as nomadic free spirits who show them how to cut loose. The sequel scuttles the good vibes of that dynamic by throwing in a number of elements that simply don’t work. Extra characters, lame subplots, a baby…a baby isn’t always just death for a funny sitcom. Sometimes it’s death for a potentially funny sequel, too.

This time around, Marcus and Emily are ready for Ron and Kyla’s brand of madness. Or so they thought. Organizing a reunion trip to the Caribbean, Marcus is caught offguard that Ron and Kyla are just as immature and maddeningly inappropriate as ever, abusing the airport PA system like a couple of children. It seems that becoming parents hasn’t changed them one bit. They still drink and curse and party as hard as ever. The baby can pretty much fend for itself, right? It takes a community, right? When random folks aren’t watching the kid better than his parents, they also brought along an old friend from the first movie, hotel bellboy Maurillo (Carlos Santos), to be the babysitter.

Already the chemistry is disrupted by a lousy B-plot that finds Maurillo on a quest to find love, only to be hindered by his babysitting gig. Further getting in the way is the arrival of Steve Buscemi as Kyla’s father, a scheming criminal who appears to be the only person on the planet who doesn’t like Ron, who is just a big ol’ hard-drinking, coke-snorting teddy bear. There’s also some nonsense involving a drug kingpin (played by The Wire‘s Jamie Hector) and a missing stash of money that Kyla’s daddy is eager to find. Buscemi just throws off the energy every time he appears. He’s great in certain kinds of comedies but he doesn’t fit in Vacation Friends 2 which relies on rapid fire jokes, while he grinds things to a crawl.

The central plot is quite funny and would’ve worked on its own, as Marcus tries to strike a deal with the resort’s Korean ownership group to build a 5-star hotel. The always-funny Ronny Chieng plays one of the execs who Marcus must win over without Ron and Kyla screwing things up with their crazy antics. Meanwhile, Emily and Marcus are trying to have a baby of their own, and he’s going overboard to embarrrassing fashion to track the best time to conceive.

Cena, with untamed hair and dressed like he’s been living on a friend’s couch, is having the time of his life in this role. Ron is such a big, dumb lug and a badass (who may or may not have killed 42 people), but also a protector and loyal friend. Paired up with Hagner, they create the kinds of characters you wish you could be out there hanging out with, downing margaritas and shots hand over fist. Howery is solid, too, even though he’s meant to keep the film on an even keel rather than be swept up in Cena’s madness.

As Vacation Friends 2 spins out into helicopter explosions, shootouts, and kidnappings, there aren’t more laughs to go along with it. It’s not a lost cause, though. These characters are worth keeping around. We want to see them party and wake up the next day not knowing what happened. Keep it simple, and the next vacation we get to spend with these friends could be the best one.

Vacation Friends 2 is steaming now on Hulu.

Vacation Friends 2
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.