Disney+ film review: Vacation Friends
James R | On 27, Aug 2021
Director: Clay Tarver
Cast: John Cena, Lil Rel Howery Jr, Yvonne Orji, Meredith Hagner
Where to watch Vacation Friends online in the UK: Disney+ UK
It’s been 15 years since John Cena made his inauspicious screen debut in The Marine, followed by actioners 12 Rounds and Legendary. It was almost 10 years later that he really found his groove, with a turn in Amy Schumer’s rom-com Trainwreck. Since then, Blockers has proven his knack for comic timing. Vacation Friends offers the ultimate litmus test – the ability to elevate a familiar script into something ha-ha more than ho-hum.
We first see him as Ron when he’s riding a jet ski with all the arrogance and volume of a rich white guy, accompanied by the equally ostentatious Kyle (Meredith Hagner). Their presence, initially in the background, soon disrupts the foreground of the romantic getaway planned by Marcus (Lil Rel Howery Jr) for his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji). What begins as the intended setting for an unforgettable proposal turns into a holiday that’s memorable for all the wrong reasons – accidental substance abuse, vehicular damage and intentional bar fights.
But before you can say “what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico”, Marcus and Emily find their wedding almost a year later crashed by the arrival of their “vacation friends”, who don’t realise that they were only considered single-serving holiday buddies rathe than new BFFs. And so the chaos begins to erupt once more. Except that the film tried so hard to up the ante in the opening act (with some deftly directed punchlines) that everything that follows fails to really shock or surprise – the thought of losing the wedding rings just before the ceremony feels far too conventional after such unhinged hijinks.
In a way, that’s the point, as Marcus and Emily provide the straight-laced counterparts to the rambunctious Ron and kooky Kyla, and Howery Jr and Orji are convincing as the uptight, nervous workaholic and the woman eager to get the approval of her disapproving father. But they’re underserved by a script that doesn’t quite bring enough depth to their side of the story yet also doesn’t lean enough into the craziness lingering just out of frame.
John Cena and Meredith Hagner, though, bring such energy to the screen that oftentimes that doesn’t matter too much, with Hagner proving relentlessly friendly to an almost disturbing degree and Cena throwing his intense screen presence into the part of a macho teddy bear who just wants a hug from his new best mate. While their shock value gradually wears off, it’s enough to give this familiar tour of well-visited cinematic conventions a jolt to the system – and makes you wonder what a comedy would be like with the scene-stealing Cena in the main role.
Vacation Friends is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.