Film Review: “Vacation Friends” Clumsily Treads Familiar Water with Likable Actors

If you take Meet the Parents, Wedding Crashers and The Cable Guy and liquify them in a blender, it would taste like Vacation Friends. Produced by 20th Century Studios, this R-rated comedy seeks out shock value through a fairly thin plot leading to some bizarre situations. But through all the uncomfortable moments, it ultimately has a sweet message about friendship.

(20th Century Studios)

(20th Century Studios)

Uptight Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) has tried to pull together the perfect marriage proposal to Emily (Yvonne Orji) at a 5-star resort in Mexico. But when their room is destroyed at the sold out resort, they end up being invited by another couple to stay in their presidential suite. With their guards down, Marcus and Emily find themselves having fun with wild Ron (John Cena) and Kayla (Meredith Hagner). But at the end of the trip, Ron and Kayla want to keep in touch with Marcus and Emily, who want to keep their “Vacation friends” on holiday.

The character of Marcus is very similar to Greg Focker, both in terms of his uptight personality and his relationship to his future father-in-law. The dynamic between Lil Rel Howery and Robert Wisdom is never quite as fun as that of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro and if you’ve seen Meet the Parents, this element of Vacation Friends feels like a less skilled imitation.

Like Matthew Broderick with Jim Carrey, Marcus and Emily can’t seem to get rid of Ron and Kayla when they show up seven months later to crash their wedding. Neither are as deranged as The Cable Guy, but both characters are played to the extreme. At times they’re too much for even the audience to handle, but John Cena and Meredith Hagner are so likeable and charismatic that you eventually warm up to them as a viewer.

(20th Century Studios)

(20th Century Studios)

The writing takes some wild stabs at shocking the audience with absurd humor. Sometimes it works, leading to some fresh moments in an otherwise recycled plot. But sometimes things are taken too far, like the two separate jokes about human trafficking, which will probably never be funny.

Some bad special effects, mismatched dialogue replacement, and a few odd editing choices make this 20th Century Studios release feel cheap. While it was unquestionably made for streaming, the production values have been so solid for Disney+ and Hulu original films recently that this seems like a step back. Don’t let the star power fool you, this has the production values of a direct-to-DVD sequel.

For all its borrowing of plots and characters, Vacation Friends is ultimately saved by the charm of its cast and a heartwarming message about what it means to be a true friend. You won’t find any culturally defining moments here, or even any quotable jokes, but it ultimately straddles the dividing line between good and bad for most of its runtime. It settles on something that’s just okay, mediocrity at its finest.

I give Vacation Friends 2 out of 5 margaritas with white powder on the rim.

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