Vacation Friends, 2021.
Directed by Clay Tarver.
Starring John Cena, Meredith Hagner, Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji and Robert Wisdom.
Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) are a free spirited couple on vacation in Mexico. Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) their uptight counterparts. This is what happens when circumstance brings them together.
John Cena will be a movie star one day soon. Just not with this film. By any rational measure you can muster this is mediocre stuff. For an hour and forty minutes Vacation Friends creates a comedy vacuum as Meredith Hagner, Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji stand alongside John Cena in what can best be described as a travesty.
Playing two couples with radically different outlooks on life, this is a culture clash comedy without the laughs. John Cena and Meredith Hagner are free spirited partners, while their co-stars provide the uptight angle. Resort disasters force them together, while cocaine before breakfast keeps things interesting. That this film then takes that premise away from Mexico and into reality, only makes things worse.
Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson may have forged careers out of these films, but at least they had the writing to back it up. Vacation Friends never falls flat, because everything about it is pedestrian to begin with. Lil Rel Howery populates a role better suited to Kevin Hart, while the cantankerous father-in-law riff gets gifted to Robert Wisdom.
Elsewhere Yvonne Orji clings on for dear life as girlfriend Emily, trying to conjure up countless levels of exasperation. That she comes out of this only slightly better than Meredith Hagner is a miracle, as neither actress is given anything to do. On the rare occasion that they are allowed to act rather than react, their dialogue adds nothing.
Every cliche that audiences can imagine is thrown into the blender here, as bad situations stack up like dominoes. Unbelievable events drive these people apart, before pushing them back together, as five writers try to jump start this comedy stiff, with consistently ill-judged zingers. An effort that elicits nothing more than the sound of cinematic tumbleweed.
There comes a point late on where Robert Wisdom is made up like a circus clown. Staring back from beneath exaggerated make-up, John Cena’s Ron and Lil Rel Howery’s Marcus try not to laugh. It is a sad indictment of Vacation Friends that this example could be classed as the funniest moment. Tonally awkward, emotionally vacuous and neither working as drama nor comedy; audiences will sit there slack jawed.
Wedding ceremonies, magic mushrooms and bad visual effects only complicate matters. John Cena is charming, boisterous and kind hearted as Ron, while Meredith Hagner pulls off the same trick as Kyla. Of the two, only he really gets away with this, by deploying charisma and commitment in spades. He seems oblivious to the fact that Vacation Friends is a huge waste of his time, while audiences will most likely give up after thirty minutes when that penny drops.
Vacation Friends might be the first streaming feature to have a joint release through Hulu and Disney+, but this is merely marketing. There is a disconnect from the opening frame, which never allows audiences to engage. A situation which is not improved by its desperate need to please a paying public. Unfortunately, this film is more likely to raise a person’s blood pressure before raising a smile.
It is reminiscent of an old Robin Williams film called Club Paradise, which featured Peter O’Toole and Rick Moranis. Written and directed by Harold Ramis, that had no idea what it wanted to be either, despite all the stars involved. Vacation Friends has a similar vibe without the exotic locations or hairy hyperactive headliner.
If this film had any redeeming features beyond its slim running time, John Cena would be amongst them. With carefully selected roles in Trainwreck, Bumblebee, The Suicide Squad and the forthcoming Peacemaker; there is clearly a game plan. However, Vacation Friends feels more like a contractual obligation than any conscious decision to test himself.
Every action star on his way up changes tack at some point and tries something else. Whether we are talking Vin Diesel in The Pacifier or Arnold Schwarzenegger for Kindergarten Cop. That being said, this mis-step from John Cena sits on shakier ground than Justin Timberlake’s turn in The Love Guru.
With the move away from digital releases in favour of theatrical screenings, it is interesting that Vacation Friends gets to bypass cinemas completely. However, for those who think that Disney are having a change of heart, after refusing to offer up digital options for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings; think again. Simply put, they must figure that Vacation Friends will find a more receptive audience outside of theatres.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★