REVIEW: Vacation Friends 2 (2023, dir. Clay Tarver)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 105 mins

UK Distributor: Disney+

WHO’S IN VACATION FRIENDS 2?

Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, Meredith Hagner, John Cena, Steve Buscemi, Ronny Chieng, Jamie Hector, Carlos Santos, Julee Cerda, Julianne Arrieta, Arnold Y. Kim, Kevin Yamada

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Clay Tarver (director, writer), Stuart M. Besser and Todd Garner (producers), Mark Mothersbaugh (composer), Tim Suhrstedt (cinematographer), Tim Roche (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Two couples find their dream holiday rudely interrupted…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON VACATION FRIENDS 2?

Released on streaming just as cinemas were finally starting to get back on track post-pandemic, Vacation Friends became a sizeable hit with viewers who still weren’t comfortable with heading out to see the latest studio comedies. However, even those people will still find no real reason to stay home and watch Vacation Friends 2, a sequel that feels even more pointless than its uneven predecessor – and much, much less entertaining to sit through.

The film once again follows two couples – the straight-laced duo Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji), and the much more unhinged Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), the latter of whom now have a baby to comically neglect – who, this time, head to a luxurious five-star hotel and resort in the Caribbean to celebrate Ron and Kyla’s honeymoon. However, Marcus is actually there to land a big construction deal with the hotel’s Korean owners, which is due to take place after his wild and unpredictable friends depart – but wouldn’t you know it, the Koreans have shown up earlier than expected, forcing Marcus to keep Ron and Kyla around in order to impress the tightly-wound VP Yeon (Ronny Chieng). Throwing a further wrench into the works is the unexpected arrival of Kyla’s formerly incarcerated father Reese (Steve Buscemi), who is clearly still up to some shady dealings that soon throw the entire trip into chaos.

If you’re thinking that this is one of those movies that takes place in a luscious and relaxing location for no reason other than the cast and crew really wanted an excuse to go on an all-expenses paid holiday while every now and then filming a movie with as little effort or even ambition as possible, then you’d be right. That’s exactly what Vacation Friends 2 is. In fact, it’s difficult to know at times if the filmmakers, including returning director Clay Tarver (who is also the sole credited writer this time), are even trying to hide the fact that this film only exists so that they can spend as much time in paradise as they realistically can. You can certainly feel it in how half-hearted the direction is, and especially the script which feels comprised of the laziest sitcom jokes that were already stale by the early 2000s. Whether or not he was contractually obligated to make this sequel because of the previous film’s success, or if he really was that disinterested regardless of the incentives, Tarver just doesn’t seem to care about giving the audience any kind of meaningful entertainment this time round.

The overwhelming disinterest sadly seeps into the main performances, which is disappointing because the dynamics and camaraderie between actors Lil Rel Howery, John Cena, Yvonne Orji and Meredith Hagner were what kept the material afloat in the first movie. Here, it’s much more obvious that they’re there simply because they have to be, and seem to be playing up a lot of their usual schtick until it becomes their only identifiable personality, because – once again – it worked before, so why not do it again, only bigger and not as charming? You’ve got to admire Cena, though, for even in a DOA comedy sequel like this, he is still trying to make it work, and even though he never really succeeds in making you laugh (though in fairness to him, nobody in this cast can make Tarver’s painfully unfunny script feel natural), it’s the effort that counts.

However, not even Cena can save a movie that feels disgustingly cynical from the start. Yes, the movie exists because its predecessor was a hit, so commercially it makes sense for a sequel to follow, but even a follow-up to a movie that certainly wasn’t great but still had some moments of charm and heart, should at the very least feel like it has similar qualities. Sadly, as the movie crashes into one contrived set-piece after another, before then going even further off the rails with a drug dealer action-thriller plot for its third act, the more it becomes apparent that there was no love or thought put into this. There doesn’t even seem to be any indication among the cast that they’re enjoying playing these characters anymore, and like the filmmakers are clearly just rushing through the shots so that they can go back and relax by the pool. In that sense, hopefully they enjoyed the free holiday, even if it is at the expense of the time that the viewer is wasting whilst watching it.

It’s never funny, any sense of heart is completely gone, and the charm that came from these lively performers previously has been replaced by something that doesn’t even feel like they enjoy working together again (which they may well do, but it never feels apparent in the final product). For anyone who was somehow hoping that Vacation Friends 2 would buck the curse of comedy sequels being insultingly inferior to the original, then bad news: this one all but confirms that the trend is here to stay.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Vacation Friends 2 is an awful comedy sequel that contains no laughs, no heart, no charm (even from its main cast, who can’t replicate their easy chemistry from the previous film), and no reason for it to exist other than to give its filmmakers an excuse to go on a luxurious holiday while putting zero effort into making a product with substance.

Vacation Friends 2 is now streaming exclusively on Disney+

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