Producers: Todd Garner and Timothy M. Bourne Director: Clay Tarver Screenplay: Tom Mullen, Tim Mullen, Clay Tarver, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley Cast: John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, Meredith Hagner, Robert Wisdom, Andrew Bachelor, Lynn Whitfield, Barry Rothbart, Carlos Santos, Kamal Bolden, Chuck Cooper, Hugh Moore, T. Love and Anna Maria Norsford Distributor: Hulu+
Director Clay Tarver tries to keep things moving along briskly in this raunchy, ribald comedy and mostly succeeds, but the high energy level isn’t enough to sustain the sitcom-level screenplay of “Vacation Friends.”
After his scene-stealing supporting turn in “Free Guy,” Lil Rel Howery takes the lead here as Marcus, the owner of a Chicago construction business who comes to a Mexican resort for a super-romantic week with his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji), to whom he intends to propose. On the cab ride to the hotel, they’re aghast at the sight of another couple recklessly riding a jet ski in the ocean.
They turn out to be Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), whose appetite for crass, no-holds-barred fun is inexhaustible. And when upon arrival at the hotel Marcus and Emily are informed by a hapless clerk (Carlos Santos) that their suite has been flooded by an overflowing Jacuzzi in the one above, and that he can’t find them remotely similar accommodations in any of the surrounding hotels, Ron and Kyla—who are, of course, the offending parties who left the water running—insist that they stay with them.
That begins a weeklong binge of revelry and dissipation, during which Marcus and Emily join in Ron and Kyla’s spend-like-there’s-no-tomorrow outrageousness—at first reluctantly, and then with abandon. The booze flows freely and drugs are plentiful, and there’s a good deal of destruction—not just of the suite, but of yachts and nightclubs. Of course what happens in Mexico, Marcus thinks, will stay in Mexico.
But that’s not to be. Who should crash the wedding but Ron and Kyla, ready to liven up the staid, swank society affair prepared by Emily’s snooty father Harold (Robert Wisdom) and brother Gabe (Andrew Bachelor), neither of whom has any use for Marcus? One would think that Harold would be horrified by brash Ron, but that’s not the case—there are reasons why the old man accepts him with open arms, despite his initial misgivings. Gabe, though, remains hostile, until Ron hustles him on the golf course.
The screenwriters try everything to keep the laughs coming during the protracted wedding sequence, from some formulaic business involving heirloom wedding rings to the abrupt arrival (at Ron’s invitation, of course) of Marcus’ construction crew. The biggest set-piece, though, involves a fox hunt, of all things—in which drugs once again take center stage.
Of course, everything turns out well despite the disasters. Things end with a dose of sentimentality as even Harold melts; and naturally Marcus and Ron develop a close bond.
Howery and Cena go all out to sell this derivative stuff. As Marcus the former takes the full Kevin Hart route, shifting from quieter moments to rants with ease, while the latter starts at full throttle and then ramps up even further, even ribbing his former profession when the quartet goes to a Mexican wrestling match.
The consequence, though, is that after the initial, Mexican-set half-hour, the movie becomes a male-centered affair. Orji and Hagner, as well as the other women at the wedding, fade into the background; Wisdom and Bachelor are more prominent. Among the supporting players only Santos stands out as the nonchalantly unhelpful hotel worker.
“Vacation Friends” is premiering exclusively on a streaming service, but the Twentieth Century production is a glossy one, with Aaron Osborne’s production design, Salvador Perez’s costumes and Tim Suhrstedt’s cinematography all more than competent. Evan Henke’s editing sometimes goes a mite slack—the excision of ten or fifteen minutes would not have been amiss—and Rolfe Kent’s score is mediocre, but overall it’s a nifty-looking package.
Like so many getaway destinations, this isn’t a terrible place to visit once, but you wouldn’t want to go back again.