Movie Review ~ Vacation Friends

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The Facts:

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

Rated: R

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.

Movie Review ~ Brightburn


The Facts
:

Synopsis: What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

Stars: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Meredith Hagner, Matt Jones, Becky Wahlstrom, Gregory Alan Williams

Director: David Yarovesky

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: If you ask even the most hardcore comic book or superhero fan, they’ll tell you the most difficult movie to get through is the origin story. The necessary evil in the introduction of any known entity, it’s the one entry that often gets marked down for its inevitable sameness.  It’s made all the more frustrating when a studio goes back to the drawing board and wants to begin their big franchise from the ground up again…because it means another take on how our hero or heroine came to be so very super.  While some films have found new angles into the telling of these tales, most find themselves fumbling through rote storytelling arcs as a means to a predictable end.

Living in an age where remakes and reboots are all the rage, I can see the appeal of Brightburn to a studio hungry for an interesting property that poses quite the question to viewers:  What if a childless couple found a baby in a demolished spacecraft and raised him as their own, but rather than growing up to be a hero he becomes malevolent?

On an ordinary night in 2006, the town of Brightburn, Kansas saw its population grow by one when Tori and Kyle Breyer’s prayers are answered and a baby boy literally falls from the sky. Over the next 12 years the Breyer’s don’t speak of that night, telling the boy only that he was adopted and living a peaceful life on their remote farm.  They notice, though, that he’s never sick, never bleeds, never gets a bruise.  On the eve of his twelfth birthday, a strange beacon coming from the barn awakens Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, Avengers: Endgame) and it flips some kind of switch inside him, unleashing a host of powers he never knew he had. Over the next several days these powers will grow, as will his desire to take over the world…starting with Brightburn.

Turning the Superman origin story on its ear, Brightburn most definitely has the kernel of a unique concept but it’s unfortunately not been developed too far past that logline.  What’s arrived in theaters is a half-baked movie born from a half-baked idea.  The script from Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn feels like a second or third draft that needs more work because the dialogue is weak (we’re talking Saturday Night Live spoof sketch level bad) and the second half of the movie are just repetitive scenes of Brandon enacting grotesque violence on people that run afoul of him.

Admittedly, there’s some art to a few of these gore displays but they are peppered amongst uncomfortable scenes that are incredibly awkward to sit through. Did we really need to have the moment where Kyle (David Denman, jOBS) has “the talk” with Bradon and tells him about masturbation? Or several squirm-inducing passages where Brandon makes unwanted advances on a preteen girl in his class…going so far as to show up in her bedroom to terrify her?  It’s one thing to stage horror sequences where adults have gory maladies befall them but the objectification of the children was a skeevy step director David Yarovesky should have avoided.  There’s a pervy undertone to the movie that can’t be ignored.

The biggest misstep by the filmmakers is that they abandon their revisionist idea almost as soon as they introduce it, reducing Brandon to just being a creep instead of someone evil to his core.  That his parents ignore his behavior for so long starts to be a reflection on their bad parenting more than his devolving to a darker side.  By the time everyone realizes what’s going on, it’s too late and we’re already in the final act.  Even though it’s blessedly short at 91 minutes (85 not including credits) the movie struggles to maintain focus, mostly due to poor plotting and inconsistent pacing.  The last 20 minutes are a mish-mash of bad CGI and headache-inducing light flashes.

There’s most likely several factors Brightburn made it to theaters at all and didn’t go straight to Netflix where I think it would have found greater success.  With James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) producing a script written by his brother and cousin, he brought on old friend Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) as its only notable star and while she’s not A-List enough to open a movie she’s liked by quite a view movie-goers.  Also, considering its vague superhero ties it must have seemed like a good bit of counterprogramming to release it during the Memorial Day weekend in the hopes that audiences would give it a go without reading reviews first. The studio not screening the movie for critics was a clever move…but only fanned the whiff of a turkey my way.  When will they learn?