Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Vacation Friends’ on Hulu, a Crummy Comedy in which John Cena and Lil Rel Howery Fish Around Fruitlessly for Laughs

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Vacation Friends debuts exclusively on Hulu after many years in the works, during which the project cycled through stars — Nicolas Cage, Will Smith, Anna Faris, Ice Cube — before finally landing on John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji and Meredith Hagner. You’d think after nearly a decade of development, the not-large-but-not-exactly-small pile of screenwriters here might come up with fresher ideas than mismatched couples getting into hijinks during a tropical vacation and at a swanky wedding, but here we are. Our only hope is Lil Rel and co. can turn some poop ideas into comedic fertilizer.

‘VACATION FRIENDS’: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: Marcus (Howery) and Emily (Orji) walk off the plane. They’re in Mexico. Vacation. Finally. Time to let go for a while. But she still has to nearly pry his phone out of his hands; he owns a construction company, and as you’d expect, it’s a demanding job, which only exacerbates his high-strung personality. He finally puts the phone away because he has a more pressing and important matter to deal with: Proposing. The hotel suite is all ready to go for his big romantic to-do with the rose petals and champagne and everything, and they open the door and the room is flooded and the ceiling is collapsed. The surprise is ruined, but he powers through and gets down on his knees in the hotel lobby and pulls out the ring and Emily’s overjoyed. The moment can’t be ruined.

OR CAN IT? Ron (Cena) and Kyla (Hagner) witnessed the whole scene, and are so swept up in the sweetness and joy of the moment, they offer to share their massive presidential suite with Marcus and Emily. And maybe for the first time in his life, Marcus just goes with it, although he’s hesitant at first, because he’s not a total idiot of a movie character, maybe only a partial idiot of one. They get back to the room and Kyla makes them margaritas but instead of lacing the rims of the glasses with salt, she uses cocaine. Ron and Kyla are nuts. They live for today and have a big-time eff-it, let-rip attitude, which makes their obnoxiousness slightly more endearing, maybe. And Marcus and Emily still mostly ride along, because better judgment is for every day in their lives that isn’t vacation in a foreign country. The couples bond during a boat ride that ends in an airlift rescue, then we witness a montage of wildness and stupidity and drinking and fun that lasts days and culminates in one last night of craziness that might have been an incident of wife-swapping if anyone wanted to talk about it, or could remember it clearly.

And then vacay is over, and there’s an awkward goodbye as Marcus and Emily pretty much never want to see Ron and Kyla ever again, because insane shit that happened in Mexico maybe should stay there, although the feeling isn’t mutual, and the situation is standoffish but still kind of friendly but absolutely foggy. Marcus and Emily go home to Atlanta and seven months go by and it’s wedding time. Emily’s parents and brother are judgy and rich — IN-LAWS, you know?!??! — and think Marcus isn’t worthy of their dear Emily, so that’s a whole thing, but he’s bearing down and getting through the days of nuptial festivities that must’ve cost at least a couple hundred grand. Then Ron and Kyla literally crash the wedding by driving their truck through a fence. Ron endears himself to Marcus’ impending father-in-law because they’re both military veterans, so off we go with the wackjobs making rehearsal dinners and golf excursions and spa days and fox hunts — yeah sure, fox hunts, why not — more wacky than they need to be.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Adam Sandler non-classic Just Go With It is the smooth-brained vacay-com that immediately comes to mind. So cross that with any number of crappo wedding-disaster-coms ranging from You Again to My Big Fat Greek Wedding to, I dunno, Tom and Jerry (2021), but probably not Melancholia.

Performance Worth Watching: An exasperated Lil Rel Howery is a funny Lil Rel Howery, even in a sub-mediocre movie like this one.

Memorable Dialogue: Sample line that sums up the movie: “Now my balls work. My balls work because of YOU.”

Sex and Skin: John Cena’s bare ass.

Our Take: Please note that one should not praise Vacation Friends for merely avoiding the use of the record-scratch FZWOOOP sound effect during a high-cringe moment — although that seems like a major achievement for a movie like this. This is a movie that trades heavily in excruciation-comedy tropes and mismatched-couple cliches and schmaltzy sentiment that undermines the two aforementioned qualities by apparently showing personal progress among all parties because in the end, everything’s out in the open and everyone is on equal ground and loves each other.

Nice message, sure, but getting there means navigating scenes in which characters accidentally consume psychedelic mushrooms during a fox hunt — yeah sure, a fox hunt, why not — and get all flustered about the fate of some family-heirloom wedding rings. There are fistfights and public confessionals in front of large audiences and other sequences that may have been inspired comedy in a 1940s farce, but today just reek of the stench of the malodorous stink of desperation.

And yet — and this is a small yet — the cast is endearing in its commitment to shoveling manure. I can see Cena playing a deranged goon, and I can see Howery high-wiring an uptight stick-in-the-mud, and I can see Hagner generating some crazy-eyed Goldie Hawn charm, and I can see Orji doing, well, far more than the nothing character she’s given here. And I can see it all being quite funny if it wasn’t wet-blanketed by the material, which has been recycled so many times by now, it’s shapeless mush, its composite atoms just so, so tired of scenes with wacky grandmas and accidental drug consumption. But alas, in physics as in Hollywood, matter is neither created nor destroyed, existing for eternity whether we like it or not, which is the only justification for this movie’s existence.

Our Call: The universe churns on, coldly. SKIP IT.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Stream Vacation Friends on Hulu

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