The initial Vacation Friends movie brought a delightful surprise to Hulu’s screens a couple of years back. While it didn’t reach the level of a comedy classic, there was a distinct charm and warmth beneath all the wild antics, drug-related escapades, and strong language. The dynamic chemistry among the four main actors – John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, and Meredith Hagner – certainly added to its appeal. Hulu found a winner with the film, so much so that shortly after its debut, they greenlit a sequel under the working title “Honeymoon Friends.” However, updates about the follow-up became scarce over the subsequent months.
Fast forward to April of this year, and the silence was broken. Hulu and 20th Century Studios disclosed that the sequel, now rebranded as Vacation Friends 2, had not only been filmed but was set to stream in August. The familiar faces of Cena, Howery, Orji, and Hagner are all back to reprise their roles in the sequel, and Clay Tarver returns to helm the director’s chair once again.
The sequel picks up a few months after the events of the original movie, where Marcus and Emily (played by Howery and Orji) are now happily married. They extend an invitation to their exuberant and party-loving friends, Ron and Kyla (Cena and Hagner), to join them on an all-expenses-paid vacation to a luxurious Caribbean resort. For Marcus, this is a somewhat risky decision, as he’s aiming to secure a construction contract from the resort owners to build a similar resort back in his hometown of Chicago. This ambitious plan is meant to be kept a secret from Ron and Kyla. However, their seemingly idyllic vacation takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of Kyla’s estranged father, Reese (portrayed by Steve Buscemi), a recently released con artist from San Quentin.
The first two acts of Vacation Friends 2 largely follow the typical formula of a comedy sequel. Familiar jokes from the original movie are revisited, the characters’ personalities remain consistent, and the story tries to introduce new dynamics, such as Ron’s efforts to bond with his shady and previously unknown father-in-law. While it manages to offer some modest amusement, it fails to recapture the level of humor that made the first film enjoyable. The initial Vacation Friends didn’t seem to demand a sequel, as its storyline felt self-contained. While the follow-up has its moments of entertainment, it often feels like a repetition of the same formula, albeit with less success.
However, the narrative takes a bewildering turn in the third act, delivering one of the most unexpected shifts seen in a movie this year. The sequel suddenly attempts to morph into an action comedy, reminiscent of films like Shotgun Wedding from this year. Unfortunately, this transition causes the movie to lose its footing, introducing an overly complex subplot that seems out of place in a comedy that many viewers would likely watch casually while enjoying a few drinks.
Furthermore, the film struggles to manage multiple storylines simultaneously. Alongside Reese’s introduction, there’s a significant focus on Marcus’ attempts to win the approval of Yeon (played by Ronny Chieng), the vice president of the resort chain. Maurillo (Carlos Santos), the hotel concierge who befriended the couples in the first film, returns, now accompanying Ron and Kyla as their baby’s nanny. Additionally, an underdeveloped subplot revolves around Emily’s internal debate about starting a family with Ron.
For a sequel bearing the title Vacation Friends, the movie seems to have bitten off more than it can chew. While it’s reasonable to raise the stakes in a sequel, this installment grapples with an excess of storylines that often overshadow the humor that made the original film successful. The novelty of the initial film’s comedic elements begins to wear thin, especially as the movie veers into action territory, which doesn’t blend well with its established tone.