Review: ‘Vacation Friends’ is fine, and that’s fine.

Stop me if you have heard this one before. A protagonist obsessed with planning, order, and things being just so, ends up in a situation where they have to spend time with a new friend who floats through life, embraces chaos, and for whom things always seem to work out. I don’t know what movie you are thinking of because there are so many possibilities, but I am talking about Vacation Friends, the new film starring Lil Rel Howrey and John Cena, which debuts on Disney+ Star (Hulu in the US) today.

To be clear, this set-up has been done so many times because when it works, you get comedy gold. However, there are two things that a film like this needs to hit that paydirt. First, you need a pair of charismatic leads who have excellent comedic timing and natural chemistry that allows them to bounce off one another seamlessly for the most comedic effect. Howrey and Cena are definitely this. Second, you need a really funny, original script. It’s a good thing that this movie has the first thing.

As you’ve probably gathered from the trailers, the story goes something like this: Marcus (Howery) and heads to Mexico with his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji) with the intent to propose to her. He arranged for an amazing suite in a five-star hotel, for flower petals on the bed, for her favourite music to be playing, for champagne to be delivered, for the literal whole nine yards. Of course, when they arrive, the suite is flooded because the upstairs neighbours overfilled their jacuzzi.

Whilst trying to secure a new room, they are interrupted at the front desk, but Ron (Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) who end up being the couple from upstairs and who insist that Marcus and Emily share their enormous presidential suite. They end up having a debauched week, but once they get home, Marcus and Emily think that’ll be they’ll never see Ron and Kyla again, right up until Ron and Kyla crash their wedding, having taken the week and the friendship a lot more seriously than Marcus and Emily. Hijinx ensue.

Here’s the issue with this movie. It’s not that it’s not funny. On the contrary, there are a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments and many smaller moments that will make you smile, too. There is not, however, anything new or original here. A protagonist whose father-in-law doesn’t like him? Check. A wacky new friend who the father-in-law loves and who will help the father in law realise he’s been too hard on the protagonist? Check. New friends who seem nuts but turn out to be incredibly good-hearted? Check. Third act moment where the protagonists fell off the new friends only to realise they made a mistake and have a heartfelt reconciliation? Check.

Spoil the movie with a checklist? Nope, because something you have seen before can’t be spoiled.

In the end, your reaction to this is going to depend a lot on how you feel about John Cena and Lil Rel Howrey and I, for one, think they’re both pretty good. The movie they are in isn’t great, though. On the other hand, it isn’t entirely bad, either. It’s just fine. And you know what? That’s fine.

Vacation Friends is available on Disney+ Star in Canada and Hulu in the United States today, August 27th 2021.