Synopsis: A couple meets up with another couple while on vacation in Mexico, but their friendship takes an awkward turn when they get back home.
Stars: John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Meredith Hagner, Yvonne Orji, Robert Wisdom, Andrew Bachelor, Lynn Whitfield
Director: Clay Tarver
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I’ve a sneaking suspicion that had Vacation Friends arrived on schedule before production was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that I might not have been as keen to it as I wound up being. Let’s be clear, this is one of those Jumbo Margarita drinks of a film. The kind with sugar on the rim instead of salt. It’s meant to melt your troubles away as a carefully designed frothy concoction of the easiest parts of a comedy (slapstick, foul language, embarrassing situations) that’s served up in a sweet package to go down easier than it ever really should. Toss in a game quartet of leads and a director smart enough to let his actors do most of the work in helping move the dial toward success and you have a perfect blend for a sunny summer comedy that aims to please.
Marcus (Lil Rel Howery, Tag) and his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji, Night School) have arrived at their luxury Mexican resort to a less than amazing reception. Their room is flooded thanks to the couple above them leaving the water running in their massive jacuzzi. This not only leaves Marcus and Emily without a place to stay but it seriously messes up the planned proposal Marcus had organized for Emily. Just as Marcus is about to lose his cool, the other couple shows up and hearing about the newly engaged arrivals insists that the room-less duo stay with them…at least for the evening. Ron (John Cena, Dolittle) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner, Brightburn) like to party and after loosening up their new guests with a little adult beverage and perhaps an illegal substance or two, the four spend the next days on adventures before their final night when things get a little too out of control.
Seven months later it’s time for wedding bells to ring for Emily and Marcus, but at their Atlanta welcome reception who should show up but their friends from Mexico, shocked to not receive an invite to the nuptials. Now it’s Marcus and Emily’s turn to host Ron and Kyla for the week, during which time they’ll learn more about the brazen pair they barely knew for a few days in Mexico and also find out how Kyla got pregnant…even though Ron had previously told them he couldn’t have children. Could something have happened that last night in Mexico that no one can remember? As the wedding date draws near and tensions rise between Marcus and Emily’s father (Robert Wisdom, The Dark Knight Rises), revelations come to light that might alter the “I Do’s” to “I Don’ts”.
What’s nice to see is that the trailer for Vacation Friends leaves out a large chunk of the movie that takes place in Mexico…and that’s a decent amount of laughs audiences have yet to discover. Though written by five screenwriters (oy, five?), the script doesn’t seem as choppy as the writing staff would suggest, not even when the film gets to a third act that could quite easily have gotten messy with a number of plot points to juggle. Director Clay Tarver mostly turns the film over to the likes of Howery and Cena and gives them mostly free reign to have fun with both their roles and the script – smart move. While we know Howery could make magic out of mice droppings, Cena’s timing is spot-on throughout and in his third movie of the summer (F9: The Fast Saga in June, The Suicide Squad in early August) he finally strikes at the golden role he’s been working toward. The tightly wound Howery’s immeasurable charm certainly helps keep things movie as well. Let’s not forget the contributions of Orji or Hagner either, both women hold their own alongside their partners and often outshine them in their own individual scenes. And hey, it was nice to see them being given these scenes in the first place when all the screenwriters are men!
I’d dock Vacation Friends a few points for failing to utilize a talented supporting cast of veteran actors like Chuck Cooper, Lynn Whitfield, and Anna Maria Horsford more thoroughly and also because it tends to lose all of its steam in several big huffs along the way to the altar, which starts to tire you out near the end. It has to work with some efficiency to get back into its groove, and it eventually does, but moments like a strange drug trip in the forest come off like a bad idea that no one had the nerve to shoot down. Not for nothing, but I was never less than completely amused and engaged for the entire length of the feature. Perhaps it was just the right movie for my mood at that particular moment, or maybe Vacation Friends is just a solid chunk of entertainment that isn’t (and doesn’t have to) unseat anything at the box office.