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Vacation Friends ★★



Director: Clay Traver

Cast: John Cena, Milton ‘Lil Rel’ Howery Jr., Yvonne Oriji, Meredith Hagner, Robert Wisdom, Lynn Whitfield

Released: 27th of August (Disney +)

A booze-filled holiday abroad might have been tricky, or even impossible to achieve this year, but expect a reminder of carefree holiday spontaneity with Vacation Friends. Drawing on the lowering of inhibitions we usually associate with taking time away, the latest comedy to hit streaming on Disney+ focuses on the fleeting friends we make on such holidays, and ponders what might occur if ‘what happens in Vegas’ followed us home from the airport. 

Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) are a straight-laced couple who travel to Mexico for a romantic vacation. When Marcus proposes in public they’re overheard and quickly befriended by Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner); a quirky, free-spirited couple who after talking them into a drink, unleash a week of blackout-drunk, drug-induced partying that has significant repercussions. Months after their walk on the wild side, Marcus and Emily are mortified when Ron and Kyla make an unwelcome appearance that uproots their wedding weekend and threatens to expose their debauchery.

A directorial debut by Clay Tarver, who also co-wrote the script, Vacation Friends finds its biggest strength in the cast. After already appearing in summer blockbusters F9 and The Suicide Squad this year, John Cena continues his streak as the hardest working man in Hollywood, as well as indulging a clear knack for comedy – his best since 2018’s Blockers. While Howery is amusing enough as the straight man, his neurotic exasperation serving as a surrogate for the audience, Vacation Friends is undoubtedly a vehicle for Cena. Relentlessly funny, whether it’s playing up his overbearing physicality or mocking his intense delivery, Cena’s affable nature allows him to lean into the ‘jacked up himbo’ stereotype while also subverting it with endearing sensitivity and hidden depth. Meredith Hagner is well-matched with Cena, bringing a similarly chaotic, yet loveable energy to the proceedings. It’s also a pleasure to see Yvonne Orji leading a feature film. Best known for her role as Molly in Insecure and as an already established stand-up comic, she has the skillset to be in her element. However, she’s instead the weakest of the foursome, making the best of the material she’s given but with little to do in comparison to the rest of the gang.

Across its zippy runtime, Vacation Friends takes some familiar buddy comedy film staples, including the obligatory hallucinogenic drug trip and mashes these together with wedding film staples such as nightmare inlaws. The result is a film that has several laugh out loud moments but doesn’t necessarily deliver anything that feels new or memorable, despite an interesting premise. Yet in the moment, largely due to the chemistry between Cena and Howery, we buy into these characters and their unconventional bond. 

A breezy watch that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but showcases John Cena at his comedic best; Vacation Friends is an somewhat entertaining exploration of a ‘what if’ scenario. And if you’re not willing to fork out for a PCR test anytime soon it may be the closest you’ll get to sun, sand and silliness. 

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