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Review: Vacation Friends

August 27, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

What’s the difference between “real” friends and “vacation” friends? The former stick by you through thick and thin, where as the latter you befriend for a limited amount of time, fully expecting the interactions to be transitory.

But what happens if vacation friends come back into your life later on and become real friends? This is the question asked in Vacation Friends, the mostly predictable but amusing enough new comedy from 20th Century Studios that is premiering exclusively under the Star banner on Disney+ in Canada and on Hulu in the United States.

Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) is a conservative businessman who runs his own construction company, and is planning the perfect proposal to his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji) in Mexico. But their plans get upended by Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), a fun-loving couple who they run into at the resort. Despite his initial hesitation and annoyance at Ron and Kyla for messing up his plans, Marcus starts to loosen up as the two couples party together in Mexico, and things happen involving drugs and alcohol.

The two couples go their separate ways at the airport, only to be reunited seven months later when Ron and Kyla show up uninvited to Marcus and Emily’s wedding, literally bursting through the gates of the posh country club where it is being held. The wedding is being bankrolled by Emily’s rich, demanding father (Chuck Cooper), who doesn’t approve of his daughter marrying the blue collar Marcus. Ron and Kyla shake up the high-class festivities with their brash, hard-partying style, leading to a series of mishaps and misunderstandings between the two couples.

The Mexico-set first act of Vacation Friends plays out like a riff on party movies such as The Hangover, with a mismatched group of people bonding over debauchery, while the latter two thirds of the film turn into a more typical wedding comedy with all of the tropes that you would expect. It’s derivative of any number of better films, namely Wedding Crashers, as the characters go through the expected ups and downs to a mostly predictable conclusion. The film isn’t nearly as fresh or funny as the films it emulates, and there is a sitcomish feel to the production at times.

But Vacation Friends does have a few decent gags, and is kept mostly entertaining thanks to the best efforts of its cast. The film is buoyed along by the energy between Cena and Howery, who have an enjoyable sort of odd couple chemistry together. It’s fun to watch their two characters clash and learn to bond as Cena’s freewheeling Ron gets Howery’s more restrained Marcus into a variety of messes that he must also help him get out of. Hagner delivers an energetic performance as Kyla that is matched nicely by Orji’s stable presence as Emily.

Director Clay Tarver, who also co-wrote the screenplay, keeps the action moving through a series of fairly amusing if at times implausible comic set-pieces. There is a dip into poignancy in the last act that works in the moment and tries to bring the film into John Hughes territory, but isn’t as successful as it might have been and ends up serving as an all too brief glimpse into an even better, more heartfelt version of this story. Still, Vacation Friends overall serves as a pretty decent streaming comedy that is diverting and entertaining enough to pass the time.

Vacation Friends is now available to stream on Disney+ in Canada.

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