Review by Cole Groth
Clay Tarver’s Vacation Friends debuted on Hulu on August 27, 2021. Receiving mixed reviews from critics and simply decent viewership, it’s surprising that a sequel was written, shot, and released less than two years later. Vacation Friends 2 won’t win over fans of the first film, and while it’s a step down from the laughable chaos of the original, there’s still plenty of fun to be found in this buddy comedy.
Picking up shortly after the first film, we’re back with the familiar crew of the straight-faced Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji), and the wild cards Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner). From the first movie, Maurillio (Carlos Santos) is back in more of a consistent supporting role. After being married in the previous film, Marcus and Emily invite Ron and Kyla to join them on their honeymoon. All hell breaks loose when Kyla’s father, Reese (Steve Buscemi), shows up and takes them on a crime-fueled spree — all while Marcus and Kyla are trying to have a child of their own.
The immediate problem with this is that the core four are pretty much the same, just exaggerated a bit from before. Without the absurd five writers of the first film, Clay Tarver finds himself alone writing the screenplay, and he’s not quite able to flesh out anybody here. Sequels to simple films like this rely heavily on the characters becoming more complicated than before, and they’re mostly stagnant. Kyla is more obnoxious than last time, but everybody else is the same. Reese is a fun supporting character, but doesn’t stand out as feeling original.
Vacation Friends 2 offers up fewer laughs than its predecessor, simply because a lot of the jokes have already been done. If you’re a fan of high-intensity screaming and swearing, you’ll find this funny. John Cena is a treat, as he always is, and Meredith Hagner has tons of energy. It’s a perfect movie to put on if you need an easy laugh and don’t want to absorb a lot. Everything moves at a predictable pace, and it’s quick enough to still be enjoyable.
Looking at this from a technical level, there’s nothing too special here. Tarver’s direction is fine. He doesn’t stand out as someone with any style, and a comedy like this needs style to make it more interesting. The cinematography and special effects are a notable step up from the first, which was plagued with a bizarre number of bad VFX shots. Again, this isn’t the type of movie that requires much thinking, so none of the production elements stand out as anything more than fine.
Of all the movies to receive accelerated sequels, Vacation Friends probably wasn’t the best property for 20th Century to push forward with. This second outing isn’t as good as before, and this duology feels better suited for a one-off experience. That being said, it’s far from an unenjoyable time. If we ever get a Vacation Friends 3, the best thing for it would be to try something new. There’s some real potential with the crazy bunch of Marcus, Emily, Ron, and Kyla, and perhaps they’ll be up to something more interesting in 2025 if this becomes a trilogy.
Vacation Friends 2 releases on Hulu on August 25.