Producers: Todd Garner and Stuart Besser Director: Clay Tarver Screenplay: Clay Tarver Cast: Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, John Cena, Meredith Hagner, Steve Buscemi, Carlos Santos, Ronny Chieng, Jamie Hector and Julee Cerda Distributor: Hulu
Back in 2021, one could note that while the raunchy, unlikely-buddy farce “Vacation Friends” might be tolerable as a one-time time-waster, it wasn’t something you’d want to revisit. But of course writer-director Clay Tarver has felt it necessary to cobble together a sequel anyway. It follows the general rule of such follow-ups: it’s worse than the first, so uninspired Tarver hasn’t even bothered to provide a subtitle.
Had he done so, it might have been purely geographical. The first movie was set at a resort in Mexico, where Chicago contractor Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) had brought his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji) to propose to her, though in the second half it moved back to the States for the wedding, which was crashed by Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), the wild and wacky couple they’d formed an unlikely bond with while vacationing.
It ended, of course, with the four as real friends, which is why Marcus invites Ron and Kyla to join him and Orji at a Caribbean resort the following year. Ron and Kyla bring along not only their new baby but someone to take care of him while they have fun: Maurillio (Carlos Santos), the laid-back concierge from the Mexican resort where they’d met.
But Marcus has an agenda he’s keeping hidden from Ron and Kyla: all the amenities they’re enjoying are freebies provided by the Korean firm that owns the establishment, representatives of which will be arriving the following week to consult with him about a proposal to build the Chicago hotel they’re planning. Of course, though Marcus intends his over-the-top friends to have departed before the Koreans arrive, they show up early, which means that he’ll have to try to prevent them from mucking up his negotiations with the snooty head of the advance group (Ronny Chieng).
As if that weren’t enough, there’s another unexpected arrival: Kyla’s father Reese (Steve Buscemi), who’s just been released from San Quentin after a prison term and looks to mend his bond with his daughter. Naturally he takes an instant dislike to Ron, and he has an ulterior motive for his visit. He plans to abscond with five million bucks belonging to drug dealer Warren (Jamie Hector), a stash located in a plane wreck under the sea, which he plans to trick the foursome into helping him recover. Naturally things go bad, and all five wind up in Warren’s crosshairs.
The movie has points in its favor, but surprisingly Howery isn’t one of them: his brand of broad, over-the-top wackiness, similar to Kevin Hart’s shtick, works best in small doses, and it’s relied on too much here. The same can be said of Hagner’s brassy vulgarity. Orji, with her unremitting niceness, pretty much fades into the background.
On the other hand, Santos provides a few smiles as Maurillio tries to deal with his babysitting chores while getting to know young women he gets to meet in the process. Buscemi brings his customary note of snidely sarcastic edginess to the party. And Cena proves his comic chops again, especially when Ron subverts expectations, as when he proves an adept Korean speaker.
But even Buscemi and Cena can’t do much when the script moves into comic-action movie mode, with car crashes, gun battles and an escape from a sinking cargo container. The last act reminds you of the cheesy action movies Cena made when he moved from the wrestling ring to the big screen, and the lesser fare Buscemi has often wasted his talent on. This sort of stuff has been done far better elsewhere.
“Friends 2” isn’t awful—it has occasional bright moments, and technically it’s proficient enough, with Hawaiian locations standing in well enough for the Caribbean in Martin Laing’s production design and Tim Suhrstedt’s glossy cinematography; and Tim Roche’s editing keeps things moving at a fairly sprightly clip, with Mark Mothersbaugh’s perky score abetting the rhythm.
But it doesn’t even match the meagre pleasures of its predecessor.