This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
I never expected Disney to greenlight a Vacation Friends 2, but it is here. I wasn’t that big of a fan of the original — it was predictable and mostly unfunny, even if John Cena seemed to have a blast playing a total goof. Vacation Friends 2 takes the premise of Cena and Meredith Hagner not knowing how to interact in public to the extreme, and it’s surprisingly funnier and more heartfelt than the original installment. It feels strange to say this since most critics don’t seem to enjoy the movie, but I had a hell of a time watching Cena et al. go on the craziest vacation of their lives.
In this installment, Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) take Ron (John Cena), Kyla (Meredith Hagner), and Maurillio (Carlos Santos) to the Caribbean, as Marcus will discuss a potential major construction deal with the Kim Wae Group, spearheaded by the VP Yeon (Ronny Chieng, who’s played a businessman twice in a month with this film and Joy Ride). However, what should’ve been a simple business/leisure vacation complicates itself when Kyla’s father (Steve Buscemi) shows up, fresh off of prison, and gets involved with drug dealers to retrieve $5 million from leader Warren’s (Jamie Hector) plane in Cuba.
It’s a lot of movies, and unfortunately, it can’t move swiftly from one situation to the next. The tonal shift in its midsection is amazingly jarring, especially when it becomes an all-out war film against drug dealers and the bumbling vacationers. That’s when the humor mostly takes a nosedive, and the audience is treated to a series of highly conventional foot and car chases between the protagonists and the antagonists. The climax does get a bit more extreme, but it’s clear director Clay Tarver doesn’t have the eye to direct fun comedic action. It also takes a much more serious tone than the first, hampering its light-hearted nature in favor of a darker climax that doesn’t much fit into what the first two movies established. However, it does tighten up all loose ends nicely and elevates its heartfelt moments near the end.
It’s the first two acts of the film that Vacation Friends 2 is a consistent laugh riot, though your mileage may vary depending on the humor you may laugh at. I’m a sucker for anything lowbrow if done smartly and acted in the vein of a five-year-old kid with a big heart. That’s what John Cena does when he snorts Kyla’s mother’s ashes, thinking that it’s cocaine, and it’s extremely funny. Cena was the best part of the first movie, and it’s no surprise to see how much fun he’s having here, even if the material is a bit inconsistent. But it doesn’t matter: the way he sells every single line with the utmost conviction is a feat to behold, and I feel he’s one of the most underappreciated comics we have right now.
Unlike a certain other wrestler turned actor (or money launderer), Cena can act. He’s no showman — he takes the job seriously and consistently wants to push himself, no matter what he does. He’s come a long way from The Marine, and it’s always a thrill to see him on screen, especially when paired with Howery, Hagner, and even Buscemi, who gives a mildly enjoyable (but extremely phoned-in) portrayal of Kyla’s father. I’ll admit he’s the film’s weakest link, alongside the underdeveloped and extremely stereotypical villains. However, even when Buscemi’s heart isn’t 100% into the material, he still delivers a campy enough performance to sell whatever character he’s playing. And there are numerous fun moments involving his character butting heads with Cena that make up for his bored stature most of the time. Howery & Orji also surprise, with the former’s comedic timing refining itself further as he stars in more of these comedies. He was the best part of the awful The Out-Laws, so he’ll be great here and shares plenty of very stupid (but hilarious) scenes with Chieng’s Yeon.
Instead of retreading the beats of the original Vacation Friends, Tarver elevates what worked in the previous film and eliminates what didn’t. As such, we get a much funnier and more entertaining sequel than the last one. I may be the only one currently saying this, but if you enjoyed the first one, there’s no reason that you won’t like the sequel. Give it a chance, and it may surprise you as it did me.
Vacation Friends 2 is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.