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Vacation Friends 2

“Vacation Friends 2” had so much potential. Not because the sunny and silly original was anything great—the opposite. It was fine, especially for a lazy day. But the comedy of one ordinary couple becoming unlikely pals with a far more chaotic couple was conceived and executed so broadly that its success could have led a sequel to any number of great ideas. Unfortunately, this sequel got the wrong idea about what could be done with such a generic team-up. 

Like John Cena and Meredith Hagner’s characters, this movie's shrill sense of humor barrels into our viewing lives again, begging for our attention and to be seen as cute. Now we have something that’s even worse and more testing than “Vacation Friends.” 

Instead of trying something new, “Vacation Friends 2” crystallizes a faint formula: Chicago construction company owner Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) try to have a civil stay at a resort, only for the prank-prone, vulgar, happy-go-lucky Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) to nearly ruin it. In this latest installment, Marcus and Emily have invited the two newly married tornados to stay with them at a Caribbean hotel for five days. Ron and Kyla also have their baby (named Marcus) and are joined by the deadpan hotel manager from the first movie, Maurillio (Carlos Santos). Maurillio is mostly there to babysit. 

Out of the blue and straight from San Quentin with a smirk, Steve Buscemi's Reese appears as the latest unpredictable person who threatens to sabotage one of Marcus’ life moments. Reese is Kyla's father, and he arrives at just the wrong time for the neurotic Marcus—Marcus is actually here to present to the hotel’s main owner about letting him build one in Chicago and impress people like VP Yeon (Ronnie Chieng). He can't let his rowdy friends, or their surprise guest, mess this up. 

Reese proves to be even more manipulative than Kyla used to be, but everyone is helpless to it. As a new way for "Vacation Friends" to get character-based, peer-pressure comedy out of enigmas, Reese becomes the one who pushes this movie's contrived scenarios that suck the fun out of chaos. He pressures Marcus to surf, and because Ron is desperate for his father-in-law to like him, Ron tries to be the muscle for Reese's shady business with a few men at the resort. 

Buscemi could be doing so much else, but like his work in the Happy Madison films (of which this is a direct descendant), he at least leans into the perversity of such chintzy, forceful comedy. But the characters' actions in general are just so forced, as are the set-ups, and so is the sense of enjoyment for a movie filmed in sunny Hawaii. You might find yourself forcing a laugh during one weak sequence to pretend this is all supposed to be fun. 

The first "Vacation Friends" changed its focus about midway from resort chaos to become a wedding comedy, with Marcus worrying about impressing his future father-in-law and keeping Ron and Kyla at bay. “Vacation Friends 2” makes a similar turn, becoming an action-comedy as Reese's idea of a scuba-diving trip ends in everyone dodging gunfire. Here, the movie could break from convention or take this strange narrative shift and run with it. Instead, the action has the same stagnant nature of its mild comedy set-pieces, which are essentially scripted as “and then they get drunk" or "and then they run away." 

Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji are more or less on autopilot, even in a striking subplot that has the newly married couple challenging a typical narrative about wanting kids. And the shtick from Cena and Hagner—the two directed to act like teenagers who just learned to cuss—gets tiresome. The movie's characters, including those played by an underused Chieng and Santos, aren’t a flattering part of this movie’s own scant personality but instead products of what fleeting good ambitions it has for silliness. 

Clay Tarver has sole writing credit and, as a returning director for this now-franchise, doubles down on a lot of the same gags: performances that confuse loud for funny, cell phones that make sounds at inopportune times, and visual jokes that go wide on the punchline and last only so long, minimizing their impact (as with the anticlimactic boat crash in “Vacation Friends,” or a surfing disaster here). It’s no coincidence to the bare amusement of this movie that this kind of comedy also usually has a short shelf-life, if it even works in the first place. 

Now playing on Hulu. 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Vacation Friends 2 movie poster

Vacation Friends 2 (2023)

Rated R


Lil Rel Howery as Marcus

Yvonne Orji as Emily

John Cena as Ron

Meredith Hagner as Kyla

Steve Buscemi as Reese Hackford

Carlos Santos as Maurillio

Ronny Chieng as Yeon

Arnold Y. Kim as Goe

Jamie Hector as Warren

Lovensky Jean-Baptiste as Jerome

Julee Cerda as Mrs. Kim





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