Screenwriter Clay Tarver makes his directorial debut in Hulu's raw and raunchy comedy, Vacation Friends. Straight-laced Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) are befriended by wild, thrill-seeking partiers Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) at a resort in Mexico. Marcus and Emily choose to live in the moment, but the usually level-headed couple lets loose to enjoy a week of uninhibited fun and debauchery with their new "vacation friends." Months after their walk on the wild side in Mexico, Marcus and Emily are horrified when Ron and Kyla show up uninvited at their wedding, creating chaos and proving that what happens on vacation doesn't necessarily stay on vacation.
Six writers, including the director, the Mullen brothers, Johnathan Goldstein and John Francis contributed to the script for Vacation Friends. I wasn't familiar with anything by the director or the Mullen brothers. However, Johnathan Goldstein and John Francis made me chuckle and provided lines I still quote today with Horrible Bosses and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Vacation Friends starts with a standard template for character introductions, and we just know where the movie is going to go. There's nothing wrong with predictability though, in this case. Naturally, some of the big laughs come during the film's first half during the vacation moments in Mexico. However, there are still good laughs when the characters return to the states and prepare for the wedding, but not as much during the first half.
John Cena is having a great time in the role of Ron and serves as the perfect wild man to Lil Rel Howery's Marcus. Cena just may have found his niche with movies like this, as comedy appears to be his strong suit. Regarding the female leads, what's most surprising is that Yvonne Orji, a gifted comedian in her own right, is vastly underwritten and neglected as a placeholder. Instead, Meredith Hagner gets the bulk of the one-liners. The supporting cast of veterans, including Robert Wisdom, Lynn Whitfield, and Anna Maria Horsford are also not given much to do other than fall into typical parental roles. The only supporting actor given a chance to shine is Andrew Bachelor's character of Gabe, Emily's brother.
Vacation Friends spent the sixteen years stuck in development hell. At various points, Nicolas Cage, Will Smith, Chris Pratt, Anna Farris, and Ice Cube were all once attached to the movie. I can honestly say the film fan in me wouldn't have minded seeing some of the original choices in the roles. Thankfully though, the cast the film ended up with has enough chemistry for me to recommend it as a one-time watch.
Final Grade: C+
Vacation Friends is available to stream on Hulu now.