Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Release Date: August 27th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Clay Tarver Actors: John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Meredith Hagner, Yvonne Orji, Barry Rothbart, Chuck Cooper, Anna Maria Horsford, Lynn Whitfield, Robert Wisdom
verstressed Chicagoan Marcus Parker (Lil Rel Howery) and his girlfriend Emily Conway (Yvonne Orji) arrive at their exotic Mexican vacation destination, where Marcus has planned a surprise marriage proposal. As they drive to the magnificent, five-star resort, they spy daredevils Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) recklessly smoking weed and jet-skiing off the coast – an act far too wild for the more practical, earthbound couple. But when Marcus’ room gets flooded from an overfilled jacuzzi, his perfect evening (and relaxing weekend of tequila-tasting and whale-watching) is nearly ruined – until the very same Ron and Kyla, who also coincidentally caused the water damage from their upstairs presidential suite, invite Marcus and Emily to stay with them.
The premise is remarkably simple but unfolds quickly, allowing for the immediate, amusing odd-couple pairing of a perpetually carefree muscleman and the constantly on-edge businessman (their physical disparities directly correlate to their attitudes and personalities, much like the combination of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart). With a lengthy montage of drug and booze-fueled misadventures, the goofy contrast of crazy versus conservative or foolhardy versus sensible is on full display, perhaps only slightly exaggerated from standard fantasy-comedies set on paradisiacal locales. These initial moments aren’t particularly creative (a number of comical vacation disaster flicks have been released in the last few years), but they do offer up a few decent laughs.
Seven months pass before Marcus and Emily are pressured into a formal wedding, which places the groom amidst disapproving in-laws (mirroring a few uncomfortable confrontations from “Meet the Parents”), presenting a new set of humorous contrasts: ultra rich versus middle-class and poshness versus ruggedness, as well as the return of responsibility versus unaccountability. The cartoonish qualities increase as Marcus goes through a rite of passage of sorts, struggling to impress relatives and remain in control – even as a much-anticipated return of Ron and Kyla threaten to unravel every bit of his composure. “Everything you touch turns into drugs!”
Letting go and fitting in turn out to be difficult goals, but surprisingly humorous, populated by little conundrums that ramp up until they’re either outrageous, raunchy moments, or hilariously awkward social interactions. Everything that can go wrong does, usually in more and more unrealistic ways, highlighting the over-the-top nature of this tale (continually mining jokes from dreamlike absurdities). Despite the fact that few things here are completely fresh, while conflicts are flimsy and the resolution is predictable, the pacing is fast, the gags are blithe, and there’s something unexpectedly enjoyable about this brand of bonding, unlikely collaborations, and easygoing personas. “Vacation Friends” doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a collection of light laughs, but it manages to be exactly that with a dependable pleasantness.
– Mike Massie