Credit: Jessica Miglio/20th Century Pictures
by Steven Warner Featured Film Streaming Scene

Vacation Friends | Clay Tarver

August 30, 2021

Vacation Friends feels like the umpteenth trip to the same tired destination.

A film whose spec script has been kicking around Hollywood for so long that Anna Faris and Chris Pratt were once attached to star, the broad buddy comedy Vacation Friends finally limps its way into homes courtesy of Hulu, by way of 20th Century Studios. A movie as generic as its title, Vacation Friends stars Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji as Marcus and Emily, an uptight couple who, while on holiday in Mexico, stumble across wild and crazy lovers Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) and proceed to have an alcohol- and drug-fueled week of debauchery that includes destroyed boats and gunshot wounds. Cut ahead seven months to Marcus and Emily’s wedding weekend in Atlanta, where Ron and Kyla crash the party, resulting in all sorts of comedic shenanigans. If that familiar setup wasn’t clue enough, let’s just say it: not a single original moment exists in Vacation Friends, and anyone with even passing knowledge of films like Meet the Parents and Wedding Crashers can guess where all of this is headed. The big comedic set pieces are as stale as a freezer-burned slab of year-old wedding cake, including a fox-hunting expedition involving the accidental ingestion of hallucinogens — cue the warped aspect ratio and pulsating colors — and a dinner toast gone horribly awry. Naturally, Marcus also has a fractured relationship with his future father-in-law (Robert Wisdom), who absolutely loves Ron, because that’s how these things go. In fact, everyone thinks Ron and Kyla are the greatest, so when Marcus and Emily ultimately realize that these overgrown children are true friends, and head off to search every Waffle House in Atlanta after a huge blow-up with them, you’ll see it all coming from a mile away.

The only thing that could make any of this possibly work is the film’s talented cast, but even they are unable to overcome a script — courtesy of five writers, no less — this tired. Howery is an affable straight man to all of the ridiculousness on screen, but he seems too hemmed in by the role, never given space to show the spark that marks his best roles. Cena, meanwhile, has proven to be a stealth comedic actor of considerable ability in films like Trainwreck and Blockers, but it’s notable that he was merely a bit player in those projects, a part of their ace ensembles. Given the spotlight and left to his own devices here, it just feels like he’s trying too hard; he’s not funny so much as exhausting, with his first few minutes on screen delivering enough of this particular energy for an entire film. Orji, best known for her work on HBO’s Insecure, has distinct presence, but her character is given little in the way of agency, which is disappointingly par for the course for female roles in these types of films. Same goes for Hagner, although much like Cena, she overdoes this schtick to a degree that is merely grating. Meanwhile, director Clay Tarver, a showrunner for HBO’s Silicon Valley, makes his feature directorial debut here, and he shows nothing in the way of comedic chops or timing, each scene limping to its underwhelming punchline before passionlessly moving on to the next. Vacation Friends will surely get millions of viewers with its likeable cast and comfortable, crowd-pleasing premise, but like a bad case of food poisoning on your first day abroad, the fun feels ruined before it’s had a chance to begin. At least you didn’t have to check your bags.

You can currently stream Clay Tarver’s Vacation Friends on Hulu.