Vacation Friends 2 A Review – Tossed into the stream during the second summer of Covid, “VACATION FRIENDS” was a throwback to the kind of big, bright studio comedy that doesn’t get made as much any more. It wasn’t anywhere near as entertaining as it should or could have been (think more Couples Retreat than Forgetting Sarah Marshall) but it was a hit for Hulu, scoring a record-breaking opening weekend, and showing that while audiences still might be reticent to rush out to one of these movies on the big screen (the summer has proved to be another rough one for theatrically released comedies), a low-stakes home-watch is an easier yes.
While Vacation Friends 2 might then make commercial sense, it’s not some thing that carries any creative reasoning to it, comedy sequels historically struggling to find ways to justify their own existence, repetition trumping reinvention.
The bar was low after the first, a half-assed waste of actors who deserve better, but the sequel is somehow even worse, a maddeningly unfunny string of bad decisions, the worst of which was deciding to make it in the first place.
In the original, the Silicon Valley co-show runner Clay Tarver (who also co-wrote 2001’s hugely entertaining and hugely underrated thriller Joy Ride) had the loose semblance of an interesting set-up, exploring the tenuous friendships many of us make on holiday when options are limited and inhibitions are loosened, the lighter flipside of another vastly underappreciated thriller, 2009’s A Perfect Getaway. But by playing every thing at an 11 when a seven would do, it became impossible to believe a shred of it, the film never smart enough to explain why a strait-laced couple (played by Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji) would continue to allow a wild criminal couple (played by John Cena and Meredith Hagner) to destroy their precious time away.
It’s, therefore, even harder to understand why the couples would find themselves on another vacation together in the sequel, this time deliberately, and so every predictably far-fetched scrape they’re then forced into becomes even more alienating than the last. No one is ever anything more than a crude cartoon character moved like chess pieces through a procession of wacky happenings followed by eye-rolls followed by shouting, none of it making the slightest bit of sense (characters change motivation and often personality
from scene-to-scene), something that would matter less if any of it were remotely funny. But it’s a film entirely devoid of jokes that land, Tarver choosing to distract from his laugh-free one-liners with dizzying chaos.
It’s a creaky, 00s sitcom expanded to a movie, the actors almost waiting for studio laughter to follow their labored
jokes. The work subplot (involving Howery’s plan to win a hotel contract) and the action one (involving Steve Buscemi as Hagner’s ex-con father involved in some nefarious local crime deals) are written in such broad strokes and presented so hammily that one would be tempted to think this was a movie for children, waiting for a talking dog to centre the action, but instead it’s an R-rated comedy that treats its audience as if they were children instead. Even the cast, who tried to overcome the rotten script of the original, are drowning here with Hagner’s often incredibly funny shtick (Ultility far better this summer in Joy Ride – no relation to the 2001 film) and Howery’s charming buttoned-up everyman persona both wearing thin.
It’s all as lazy and unfocused as the majority of viewers who’ll end up double-screening it, never once demanding more than the smallest amount of our attention. Because if those involved don’t seem bothered about the film they’re making, then why should we be?