Vacation Friends is a fun romp that follows the clash between a straight-laced couple and a wild and crazy couple. The core concept is fairly standard and there’s more than a few creaky comedy tropes but what makes it work is the enthusiasm of the leads. The script is full of dumb, corny jokes and dopey one-liners and most of them land. Vacation Friends throws constant impediments to the main characters’ happiness as the two lovable yet incredibly dangerous folks keep showing up uninvited. It’s funny, zippy and watchable, if not exactly original.
Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) is on an extravagant vacation with his girlfriend, Emily (Yvonne Orji) and wants to propose. Unfortunately, their hotel room was trashed by the partying couple above them, Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner). The party couple befriend the square folk and begin a vacation of drunken debauchery, a marriage ceremony for Marcus and Emily by a sketchy holy man, and hazy partying. They leave the crazy couple behind in Mexico and seven months later their (real) marriage is about to begin under the disapproving eye of Emily’s father, Harold (Robert Wisdom). Most unexpectedly, their vacation friends literally crash through the gate intending to celebrate the nuptials with their best friends and they’re carrying a surprise that Kyla is pregnant. This freaks out Marcus because of their hazy party nights but Ron and Kyla just want to be buddies even if it means disaster for the entire wedding.
The film kicks off with a very fun setup of when Marcus and Emily meet Ron and Kyla. The best stuff is the first 30 minutes when Ron is trying to convince Marcus to let loose and enjoy the moment. It’s a standard comedy convention but it still works. Ron and Kyla are not the most forward thinking individuals. While Marcus and Emily assume they are rich, Ron and Kyla admit that they blew all of their money on a vacation in the Presidential suite. The chemistry between the two couples is a lot of fun, like when Ron and Kyla see Marcus proposing to Emily the crazy couple instantly want to be friends.
Cena as Ron has a penchant for coming up with profound yet incredibly stupid statements. There is a bit of backstory teased out that he is a war veteran and some of his extreme behaviour may be a way to cope with what he experienced but it’s kind of throwing a bit too much thought into a wild and crazy guy. He gives a lot of himself to just make a friend which is inherently sympathetic. Even when he’s waving a gun around it seems sort of charming. Hagner’s Kyla delivers long, rambling speeches about everything but still seems incredibly perky. She also has a twisted sense of humour like how she initially screws with Emily making her think that she is Ron’s kidnap victim, or how Kyla awkwardly drags out the revelation that she is pregnant.
Marcus is constantly pushed to the point of extreme aggravation by Ron’s antics and Howery does a great job of expressing comedic frustration. He starts off as politely dismissive but the more Ron does, the more angry that Marcus gets, culminating when he strangles Ron and declares half mad with rage this is the happiest he’s been all week. There’s the usual comedic scene where the two guys trip out on some drugs and it has some fun images like Marcus seeing his future father in law as a literal clown. As Marcus’ fiancé, Orji has funny reactions to the craziness surrounding her.
There’s a gaggle of comedy clichés that become more prominent the movie goes on, like how the father thinks Marcus isn’t good enough for his daughter as Wisdom harrumphs disapprovingly. He entrusts ancient heirloom rings to Marcus for his daughter’s wedding and, quite unsurprisingly, the rings are in jeopardy. Another cliché is that Emily’s brother, Gabe (Andrew Bachelor) despises Marcus. Although there is a good running gag of Marcus constantly punching Gabe out when Gabe seems like the tough one. There’s a fun scene when Marcus and Ron challenge Gabe and his friend to a golf game that Ron constantly screws up, getting them deeper and deeper into debt.
Director Clay Tarver adds funny visuals, like when a cavalcade of remarkable coincidences causes an unseen disaster to befall Marcus. It slows down to super slow motion of innocuous moments like a carpet rolling and a bird diving set to dramatic orchestral music like something out of a horror movie. Or when Ron tells Marcus to relax and steer a boat which ends horribly. What works best is the pacing and how things keep going wrong in Marcus’ life whenever Ron and Kyla show up. This culminates in a very public freak out by Marcus and angrily dismissing his vacation friends. This is a standard comedic plot turn that isn’t very unique but it works.
A lot of the component pieces of Vacation Friends have been seen before. It certainly owes a huge debt to the friendly person who drives an uptight guy crazy story from What About Bob. But the fun is seeing the cast ping-pong off each other as Cena and Hagner make their vacation friends likable, if entirely infuriating, blockheads.