'Vacation Friends 2': An Unnecessary, Unfunny Sequel
At least once a year, a film comes along that makes me ask, "Why was this made?" Most of the time, this is due to a strange premise or the feeling that the film in question is doomed to fail from the get-go. The latter certainly inspired this question when I heard that a sequel to 2021's Vacation Friends was being made. I already felt like the film might be dead on arrival, but in this case, I couldn't shake the fact that it was also unnecessary. Sure, the first film yielded strong streaming numbers when it premiered, but it hasn't had much staying power since. To be quite honest, I had mostly forgotten about the first film since I watched it a couple years back, but I do remember being pretty unimpressed by it on the whole. Despite this, I decided to give Vacation Friends 2 a fair shake. In a year where we have seen more comedies being released, both theatrically and on streaming, I've been fairly underwhelmed by the bulk of them, but have at least found certain aspects of them enjoyable. I cannot say the same for Vacation Friends 2, which feels like a slapped together collection of gags that is trying to pass itself off as a movie. It is a sloppy, lifeless film that fails as a sequel, and is one of the worst comedies of the past several years.
Picking up after the events of the first movie, Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) have reunited with Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) to go on a Caribbean vacation together. In the process, Marcus is set to meet with a group of hotel owners to discuss a potential business deal, but keeps this from the wild and unpredictable Ron and Kyla out of fear they will ruin the deal. Meanwhile, the arrival of Kyla's estranged father, Reese (Steve Buscemi) turns the whole trip upside down, and leads to chaos and hijinks for the four friends.
As I said earlier, the first film isn't exactly memorable, but if there is one thing I can say about it, its that it at least felt like a real movie. It has a light plot, but it still has some structure to it. Vacation Friends 2 feels like writer/director Clay Tarver decided to mix random story ideas and crude gags together and hope for the best. In fairness, the first film was in development for around 6 years before it was made, but even with a shorter timeframe, you would think that this film would at least be somewhat cohesive. Instead, it gives a limp excuse for these characters to be together again, and then tacks on a few new characters and storylines that feel more like an afterthought. While I thought the first film's script suffered from too many cooks in the kitchen (it has five credited screenwriters), I honestly would rather have something like that as opposed to the laziness of this film. Even when it tries to up the stakes of what the characters are dealing with, it feels flat and uninspired. The film just kind of moves through what little plot it has, and builds to an ending that elicited a few groans from me, mainly due to how clumsily the film resolves itself, and a specific plot element that is so boneheaded, and already feels dated.
At the very least, the film's cast makes it through mostly unscathed. This isn't anyone's finest hour by any means, but I wouldn't say that any of the cast is completely phoning it in or anything. There are moments where it feels like the cast is just wanting to collect their paycheck and move on, but they are at least doing serviceable work for the most part. Lil Rel Howery is perfectly fine, even if the film sidelines him and Yvonne Orji for some stretches of the film. I definitely get why the film puts more focus on John Cena and Meredith Hagner's characters, given that they are the more outlandish and funnier characters of the film, but it would have been nice to see more from Howery and Orji. Cena and Hagner are fun, but they feel somewhat muted compared to how they were in the first film. Cena's comedic persona is fun to watch, but this film seems to struggle with how to use him. Hagner has secretly become one of our most reliable and consistent comedic actors over the years, and even though this film fumbles her character slightly, she still manages to be quite solid. On a similar level, Steve Buscemi isn't half bad either, but this is more due to the fact that he is a seasoned pro than anything else. Everyone here has certainly been better in other things, but it says a lot about their respective talents when even their more sub-par work is still somewhat decent.
Most studio comedies tend to have a similar aesthetic, and the same can definitely be said about this film. The way it is shot and lit gives it a somewhat artificial, almost cheap, look that certainly doesn't do it any favors. I get that some of the more technical elements of filmmaking tend to be put on the backburner when it comes to comedies, but I just wish some films would be a little more dynamic and not just rely on the bright, standard style that films like this have. This film just feels boring and plain when it comes to its overall look, and with no major laughs or compelling story beats, it feels especially glaring here.
At a time where we are seeing a small resurgence of R-rated comedies, it is disheartening that most of them tend to be either mediocre or just plain bad. There are notable exceptions, but most of them are quite weak. With this film in particular, it does very little to justify its own existence, and the gags are just not funny. I may have let out one small chuckle during the entire runtime of this film, but that's about it. The film's humor is indicative of the worst aspects of modern R-rated comedies, in that it is focused on cheap laughs and appeals to the lowest common denominator. The jokes are broad, basic, and bland, and sink the film significantly. It feels like the most minimal effort went into this film across the board, and it definitely shows.
Vacation Friends 2 is an unfunny, pointless film that fails as both a sequel and as a comedy in general. At least the first film had some heart and works as a narrative, whereas this film is inert and shapeless. I truly feel for the cast, as its sad that they were saddled with material this poor. They are perhaps the one redeeming quality I can think of in the film, as everything else is pretty weak. The first film is pretty forgettable, but I am willing to bet that this film will manage to have even less of an impact. It's the type of film that seems destined to languish in obscurity, and honestly, that's probably for the best.