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REVIEW – Like the Original, ‘Vacation Friends 2’ is Loud, Absurd and Vulgar

HMF 02971 R2 COMP min

The gang is back on vacation, again. The star studded cast of Vacation Friends has reunited for a surprising sequel with more shenanigans, absurdity and even more star power. If there’s one area where Vacation Friends 2 shines, it’s in the strength of its talented cast, led by Lil Rel Howery, John Cena, Yvonne Orji and Meredith Hagner. Joining the core four this time are Ronny Chieng, Carlos Santos and Steve Buscemi.

The vulgar humor and over-the-top comedy of the first film certainly resonated with audiences enough to warrant a sequel, and there’s always a market for this brand of humor. However, as the sequel progresses, audiences may start to feel like some stories are better left to live on their own, without further elaboration or follow-ups.

Still, fans of the first film might appreciate the chance to return to the Vacation Friends world and enjoy an easy watch that doesn’t require too much focus or investment.

Vacation Friends 2 is streaming now on Hulu.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist. To support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.

Vacation Friends 2 Key Art
Vacation Friends 2 Key Art

Official Synopsis

Picking up a few months after the end of “Vacation Friends,” this hilarious sequel finds newly married couple Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) inviting their uninhibited besties Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), who are also newly married and have a baby, to join them for a vacation when Marcus lands an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean resort. His reason for traveling there in the first place is to meet with the owners of the resort to bid on a construction contract for a hotel they own in Chicago. But when Kyla’s incarcerated father Reese (Steve Buscemi) is released from San Quentin and shows up at the resort unannounced at the worst possible moment, things get out of control, upending Marcus’ best laid plans and turning the vacation friends’ perfect trip into total chaos.

REVIEW – Full of Toilet Humor and A Little Bit of Heart

The original Vacation Friends ended with Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) getting married in Mexico, following in the footsteps of their newly minted best friends, Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji), after a series of prenuptial misadventures ensue at their vacation hotel, including flooded hotel suites, an infidelity scare, gambled wedding rings and a literal family feud. But, at the start of Vacation Friends 2, things seem to have worked out, to the point where Marcus is about to secure the largest contract for construction company with the Korean-owned Kim Wae Hotels agency and is flown out to an island resort to bring his sales pitch to the execs directly. With Marcus’ wife Emily (still the voice of reason) by his side, all bodes well—except they invited Ron, Kyla and hotel concierge Maurillio (Carlos Santos), without telling them that it’s actually a work trip.

Marcus tries, and fails, to keep their vacation friends away from Kim Wae Vice President Yeon (Ronny Chiang) and his team for the duration of the trip and, coupled with Kyla’s newly released ex-con father Reese Hackford (Steve Buscemi) popping up to crash the expedition, all hell breaks loose.

The film picks up where the first left off and we’re reunited with the primary cast immediately out the gate. Now proud parents, Ron and Kyla decide to bring their bundle of joy along with Marcus and Emily, who are trying to have kids of their own (annoyingly intrusive ovulation-tracking app included). Funny enough, both Marcus and Emily don’t actually want children, but are too scared to tell each other the truth. Predictably that starts a series of misunderstandings and shenanigans that carry the movie to its finish, from Reese smuggling her mother’s ashes (which look remarkably similar to, and is mistaken for, cocaine) into the vacation resort, to Reese’s mix-up with local druglord Warren (played with an earnest intensity by Jamie Hector) and his missing millions.

(L-R) John Cena as Ron, Steve Buscemi as Reese and Ronny Chieng as Yeon in 20th Century Studios’ VACATION FRIENDS 2. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R) John Cena as Ron, Steve Buscemi as Reese and Ronny Chieng as Yeon in 20th Century Studios’ VACATION FRIENDS 2. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Vacation Friends 2 has multiple plots that are simple enough that they never step on each other, but are also so deliberately over the top that a suspension of disbelief is not just suggested, but required. While the cartoon-ish scenarios are probably the draw of the whole thing, the movie’s more heartfelt moments are what keep it grounded and interesting.

Those intimate moments are, of course, pulled off largely by the returning cast, with Howery and Cena doing the heaviest hitting in both the comedic and emotional beats. As seen in James Gunn’s Peacemaker series, Cena clearly has a penchant for surreal roles (with this being the closest to a fever dream as one can get), but he genuinely goes through a pretty good range of emotions here. Howery and Orji continue to be the voice of the audience and deliver collective Black confusion over all the hijinks.

Buscemi executes the conman shtick with ease, and Hagner embraces Kyla’s ditzy shock value whole-heartedly but, unfortunately, doesn’t have much utility as things play out. Disappointingly, Santos spends all of his scenes carrying Ron and Kyla’s baby or trying to hit on one of the hotel guests who catch his eye. Chieng’s intentionally abrasive style might require some time to warm up to, but it works especially well with his character here, as he gradually develops and softens in his relationship with Marcus.

Comedy might be the most subjective of all the arts (what’s uproariously funny to one, is cringe-worthy to another), but it’s safe to say that the bar for sophistication is decidedly low for Vacation Friends 2. Filled to the brim with toilet humor of all varieties, writer/director Clay Tarver aims to get laughs wherever and however he can, for better or worse. There’s a certain kind of humor that R-rated comedies tend to gravitate towards that just feels juvenile: It’s loud, absurd, and usually vulgar at the basest level. Still, there’s plenty of chuckles to be had throughout the film, especially the way Howery’s straight-man continues to play off Cena’s loveable, oafish Ron.

(L-R): Meredith Hagner as Kyla, Carlos Santos as Maurillo, and Yvonne Orji as Emily in 20th Century Studios' VACATION FRIENDS 2, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by Katrina Marcinowski. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Meredith Hagner as Kyla, Carlos Santos as Maurillo, and Yvonne Orji as Emily in 20th Century Studios’ VACATION FRIENDS 2, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by Katrina Marcinowski. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The film isn’t totally devoid of heart. The overall themes are about the necessity of communication and honesty, and the power of love between a parent and child (even if the presentation is a little unorthodox). The movie doesn’t go too crazy with CGI or special effects, so when they do pop up, they’re pretty smooth and keep you within the story, and the location shots—even if there’s a mixing of Sound Stages interspersed—are colorful and visually refreshing.

The soundtrack takes its inspiration from the locale and is full of reggae and ska influences, matching the Caribbean landscape well. Otherwise, the soundtrack by Mark Mothersbaugh is pretty sparse. You won’t find anything especially memorable, but there are some appropriate cues that work well within their respective scenes.

As the film reaches its climax, Marcus and Yeon miraculously secure his new hotel gig and Reese is sold into freedom covering his debt to Warren, there is an emotional payoff that is very well done, as each character’s arc wraps up simultaneously.

If you’re looking for an eye opening comedy with a great social commentary, like Sorry to Bother You or even Mrs. Doubtfire, then this is not for you. But, if you just want something to run on the TV as you multitask, Vacation Friends 2 is the mindless fun you might need.

PROS

  • Howery, Orji, Cena and Hagner’s chemistry remains entertaining
  • A surprisingly well-paced film
  • Warren’s missing millions story-line was incredibly funny and unraveled perfectly

CONS

  • Underwhelming humor

RATING – 2.5/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 2.5
IMG 4559 min

Elijah Isaiah Johnson is a writer/illustrator/animator. His most recently published works include the Amazon best-seller Nightmare Detective, Noir is the New Black, the Comixology Indie best-selling series Leaders of the Free World, The Formula and much more.

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