Over the least few years John Cena has proven himself surprisingly adroit when it comes to executing comedy. And a film like Vacation Friends, helmed by Silicon Valley executive producer Clay Tarver and featuring co-writing credits from Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Game Night), feels like the perfect vehicle to continue showcasing his wild, ego-free energy. In many ways it is, but therein lies the problem also in that he and his on-screen wife, Meredith Hagner, possess so much R-rated vigour that they feel wasted in a movie that doesn’t know how to successfully utilise them.
It all starts off on a positive note though as we meet Lil Rey Howery and Yvonne Orji as Marcus and Emily, a relatively straight-laced couple who have spent a pretty penny on a dream vacation in Mexico. For Marcus though, the far-more level headed of the two, it’s so much more as he intends to propose, with their luxe suite just the first of many extravagances. As is the case with all situational comedies centred around eventual mis-matched couplings, Marcus and Emily see their dream vacation turn into a potential nightmare when their suite is flooded from the jacuzzi overflow from the room above, a room occupied by the rowdy Ron and Kyla (Cena and Hagner). The invitation to share their room and a “no hard feelings” margarita (laced with cocaine for good measure) seem to be enough for Marcus and Emily to loosen up, resulting in a wild week of uninhibited fun that more than removes the couple from their comfort zone.
Instead of a definitive “Nice to meet you”, Emily bids Ron and Kyla an open-ended “See you later” during their eventual departure, foreboding an eventual reunion that neither Marcus or Emily want. Despite Goldstein and Daley’s experience with adult-minded comedies – in addition to the acclaimed Game Night, they penned the Vacation remake and both Horrible Bosses films – Vacation Friends never seems willing to completely surrender to the raunchy mentality it so clearly could have. The film Cena and Hagner are dedicating themselves to is not the one the writers have delivered, and though Howery and Orji are both suitable as the straight-men to the surrounding lunacy, they are never afforded much of an opportunity to tap into the comedic abilities they both so clearly possess.
The eventual culmination at Marcus and Emily’s own nuptials could provide the film with some promising set-pieces as Ron and Kyla wedding crash, but competitive golf rounds and whether or not the rings will be present (and clean) for the ceremony is basically the extent of the wackiness on hand, leaving much of the film’s R-rated temperament wading in its front-end. There’s a mostly safe, family-friendly comedy on hand here that’s seemingly been beefed up with profanity and drug use to hopefully entice viewers into thinking its more shameless than it is, resulting in a film you wish to be better when you witness the genuine comedic nuggets it only sporadically indulges in.
Cena and Hagner are really the only reason Vacation Friends stays as watchable as it does, and their energy throughout is enough to keep switched on for 100-or-so minutes. It doesn’t travel anywhere new, but in these theatrically uncertain times a new destination, however mild or aesthetically familiar it may be, can provide a temporary streaming escape.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Vacation Friends premieres on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally on August 27th, 2021.