When the first Vacation Friends film debuted on Hulu two years ago, it was a nice surprise. By no means was it the next comedy masterpiece, but there was a lot of charm and heart behind all the raunchiness, drug use, and profanity. It also helped that the four stars, John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, and Meredith Hagner, had excellent chemistry together.
The film was a blockbuster for Hulu, with the streaming service commissioning a sequel just days after its debut, titled Honeymoon Friends. In the months since, nothing has been heard about the sequel, until this past April, when Hulu and 20th Century Studios confirmed that the sequel, now dubbed Vacation Friends 2, has already been shot and will be available to stream in August. Cena, Howery, Orji, and Hagner all reprise their roles for the sequel, which is directed by Clay Tarver once more.
Marcus and Emily (Howery and Orji) are now happily married and have asked their wild and hard-partying friends Ron and Kyla (Cena and Hagner) to accompany them on an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean resort. Marcus is taking a risk with this move, as he intends to meet with the proprietors of the upscale resort in the hopes of obtaining a building contract to develop a resort in his hometown of Chicago, which he first intends to keep a secret from Ron and Kyla. Of course, their idyllic vacation is shortly derailed by the arrival of Kyla’s estranged father Reese (Steve Buscemi), a conman newly released from San Quentin.
Vacation Friends 2’s opening two acts are pretty much what you’d expect from a comedy sequel. The jokes from the previous film are rehashed, the characters remain the same, and it attempts to spice things up as Ron fights to connect with and get the favour of the shady father-in-law he never met. It’s minor and moderately entertaining, but it never manages to regain many of the chuckles that the previous picture did. The original Vacation Friends didn’t feel like a one-and-done narrative, and although there is some amusement value here, much of it ends up feeling like more of the same, but nowhere as good.
That is, until the plot takes one of the strangest third-act turns you’ll see all year, as the picture attempts to become an action comedy in the spirit of this year’s Shotgun Wedding. Unfortunately, here is where the sequel falls flat on its face, creating an unnecessarily intricate plotline that is entirely unnecessary in a comedy that most spectators would watch in the background while having a few drinks.
The picture also tries to juggle far too many narratives at the same time. Not only is Reese introduced, but the film also spends a significant amount of time following Marcus as he attempts to get the favour of the resort chain’s vice president Yeon (Ronny Chieng). Then there’s Maurillo (Carlos Santos), the hotel concierge who befriends the couples in the first film and follows along as Ron and Kyla’s baby’s nanny. There’s also an unfinished subplot involving Emily considering whether or not she wants to have a kid with Ron.
It’s a lot of money for a Vacation Friends sequel. While it’s natural to want to raise the stakes in a sequel, there’s almost so much going on here that it forgets to bring in all the chuckles that made the original picture so popular. While the original film’s schtick made for an enjoyable 100 minutes, it begins to wear thin here, especially when the picture gets much too carried away with the action components.
The cast, like in the first film, is the main incentive to watch. From his scene-stealing turns in Trainwreck, Sisters, and Blockers to his position as Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad and the eponymous Max series, Cena has always had a talent for humour.
Cena is once again the star of the cast in Vacation Friends 2, with his on-screen wife Hagner, both of whom are equally as bright and vibrant as they were the first time around. Sure, their characters make bad mistakes all the time, but Cena and Hagner are so endearing that you can’t help but root for them. Howery and Orji are as endearing as the proper Marcus and Emily. Unfortunately, Orji’s humorous abilities appear to be underutilised this time around. While she has her moments, notably in a scenario set inside a casino, the film appears to be more interested in the tales centred on Cena, Howery, and Buscemi.
Buscemi is portraying the type of part that you’d expect from him in this type of comedy. Despite his character’s sliminess, he is still able to express the quirky and humorous sensibility that he has successfully brought to prior parts. Vacation Friends 2 might have been a lot worse in terms of comedy sequels, and for a picture that bypassed theatres and went directly to Hulu, it does deliver some moderate pleasure.
The ensemble is what keeps the picture together as it begins to suffer from attempting to explore too many concepts in less than two hours. While its predecessor was a fun and pleasant viewing, the sequel never quite captures the same magic. You’d be better off seeing the first film again.