ST. LOUIS — Marcus (Lil Rey Howery) just wants to give the love of his life, Emily (Yvonne Orji), the vacation of her dreams, and possibly ask her the ultimate question. But things rarely go as we plan them out ahead of time; life has a never-ending way of upending our expectations, and that's what happens to Marcus and Emily when a thrill-seeking couple, Ron and Kyla (John Cena and Meredith Hagner) bump into them at their resort. Many bottles of alcohol and some drugs later, they are close-if still reluctant-friends.
It's not hard to see where director Clay Tarver's latest, "Vacation Friends," is going early on in the still-too-long running time. A guarded couple clashes with an adventurous couple, setting off the fun, if predictable, fireworks. A proposal and wedding get involved, along with a mix of in-laws that don't exactly adore Marcus, and things get set in motion.
There's mild romance, raunchy humor, and the usual blend of light entertainment that screams out loud about its hard R-rating. In other words, even with five sets of hands on the screenplay-a Tom, Tim, two Johns, and one Clay-there are few surprises here. Notice these are all the names of men. Which way do you think the humor tilts?
Look, the first hour of "Vacation Friends" works pretty well. The jokes land, you are entertained, and the process of comparing your own life to the characters begins. All proper dirty comedy etiquette. But when the meal came to the table, the entrée was mainly offensive sexual jokes, forced humor, and an ending that ties too sweet of a bow on everything. There's no spoiling in that description. Just an idea of what's coming.
Cena is at his best when he gets to merge blunt humor and his own pop culture on screen. For the most part, that happens here. Howery could play Marcus in his sleep, but I wish he was given better comedy ingredients to work with. The gags are all recycled from earlier, better movies and the overall value plummets in a third act that more than jumps the shark. Suffice to say, the women are also let down by the writing. Hagner does her best to squeeze any drop of laughs from her overly-giving free spirit, but it doesn't connect. Orji is given the least space to work with, and that's unfortunate.
Is "Vacation Friends" a bad movie? Nope. It'll more than likely satisfy fans of the lead actors and the easy-to-please yet mostly familiar material will go down like a bowl of ice cream that was left inside a cracked-open freezer compartment. With the plot and preview, I went in wanting more than "Neighbors 2" jokes left out to rot.
This weirdly felt like a follow-up Hulu Original to their hugely successful 2020 hit, "Palm Springs." That comedic effort was a home run with a signature bat flip. "Vacation Friends" is what I'd call a weak pop-out to the shallow outfield. It should have been more, but painfully was not. If this is what the writer of "Joy Ride" is up to, I am disappointed.
Unofficial Rating: Two cups of coffee out of four on its best day. Fast Food Equivalent Final Judge Rating: two-hour old Taco Bell, ordered at 10:30 at night and eaten in the early morning.