The vacation mantra of what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico is put to the test in Clay Tarver’s comedy Vacation Friends. Preparing to propose to his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji) while on a romantic getaway, Marcus’ (Lil Rel Howery) plans go up in flames the minute he arrives at their five-star hotel.
Learning that their room has been flooded before they can even put their luggage down, Marcus’ blood pressure is rises even further when the hotel staff informs him that the only available lodging in the whole region is a shady 1-star Best Western near the airport. As fate would have it, Ron (John Cena) and his girlfriend Kyla (Meredith Hagner), a couple who take the term “free spirits” to a whole new level, happen upon the stranded lovebirds and are instantly moved by their plight. Staying in the lavish presidential suite, and whose negligence with their hot tub led to the flooding of Marcus’s room in the first place, Ron and Kyla invite the newly engaged duo to stay with them for the night until they can secure a new room.
One night soon turns into a wild week of drunken debauchery as Ron and Kyla’s carefree approach to life quickly rubs off on the uptight Marcus and Emily. Of course, all good things must come to an end. Heading back to their buttoned-up lives, Marcus owns a construction company and Emily works in finance, the couple has no plans of keeping in touch with Ron and Kyla. After all they were just vacation friends.
Despite the walls that Marcus and Emily erected after their trip, Ron and Kyla are like a bulldozer without any breaks. Literally breaking through barriers seven months later, Ron and Kyla show up unannounced on the eve of the couple’s wedding. Stunned by the presence of the reckless duo, Marcus and Emily must figure out how to keep their uncontrollable newfound friends from revealing everything that occurred while on vacation.
The bulk of the humour in Vacation Friends is centered around laughing at just how wild Ron and Kyla are in every aspect of their lives. They are the type of people who adorn the rims of their cocktail glasses with cocaine rather than salt. Instead of getting upset when Marcus crashes their expensive boat rental, or when Ron is shot with his own gun, they celebrate the fact that they now have a fun story to tell. Seemingly unbothered by money or their lack of it, Ron is a ranger who seems to have done every job on earth and Kyla is a medical assistant of a questionable doctor, they live life on the edge with seemingly no repercussions.
By all accounts, Ron and Kyla’s dangerous antics should be ripe for comedic gold. However, Traver’s film goes out of its way to repeatedly reinforce that, deep down, they are good caring people. These party animals are really sheep in trashy clothing. Not only does it feel odd to laugh at them, as we are rarely laughing with them, but it also makes Marcus and Emily come off as jerks. We are meant to initially side with the soon-to-be newlyweds, but they become more annoying as the film progresses. As the focal points and perspectives shifts, it becomes apparent how few original ideas Vacation Friends really has.
Playing like a tame version of Wedding Crashers at times, the second half of the film resorts to recycling gags such as Ron’s uncanny ability to know when a flying bird is about to poop and Kyla’s lack of filter when talking. Vacation Friends works best when the couples are letting loose while in Mexico. It is here where Howery and Orji truly embrace their gifted comedic talents, rather than being forced into the rigged confines of the straight person role. While it amusing to see Cena play against type, his performance cannot distract from the numerous shortcomings in the script.
While there are some inspired moments scattered throughout, such as the great Beastie Boys reference, the script never feels cohesive. Furthermore, the supporting characters, such as Emily’s parents (Lynn Whitfield and Robert Wisdom) and her brother (Kamal Angelo Bolden) who play a pivotal role, are woefully underwritten. This leaves the film stuck in a weird void where the humour is neither biting nor endearing. Just a collection of unrealized gags that only occasionally muster a chuckle. In the end, Vacation Friends is a film that should be left buried on a beach.