‘Vacation Friends’ Movie Review: John Cena’s R-Rated Friendship Comedy Plays by Rom-Com Rules

Vacation Friends is a by-the-book romantic comedy that puts friendship at the forefront. The concept of co-writer/director Clay Tarver’s R-rated movie is in the spirit of Judd Apatow, but it never manages to pull nearly as many laughs. In particular, the midsection goes a long time without any laughs. However, Lil Rel Howery and John Cena share solid comedic chemistry that breathes a bit of liveliness into the film.

John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Meredith Hagner, and Yvonne Orji are vacation friends for life

Marcus (Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) go to Mexico for vacation, where he plans to propose to her. However, their trip gets wild when they meet Ron (Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner). After the now-engaged couple return home, they try to avoid the friends that they met on vacation. Ron and Kyla believe that the four of them established a life-long bond.

Ron and Kyla have no filter, as they say and do as they like without concern. However, Marcus and Emily are well-composed and comparatively uptight. Meanwhile, Marcus juggles trying to deal with their vacation friends and attempting to get Emily’s family to like him. Nothing happens as they would have expected.

‘Vacation Friends’ front-loads its comedy

Meredith Hagner as Kayla, John Cena a Ron, Lil Rel Howery as Marcus, and Yvonne Orji as Emily in 'Vacation Friends' in Mexico
Meredith Hagner, John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, and Yvonne Orji | Jessica Miglio/20th Century Studios

Vacation Friends is lightweight R-rated comedy. There’s some sexual humor in there, but there are a lot of drug gags. Raunchy comedies are typically judged by the laugh-per-minute ratios. However, that number isn’t very high here. The plots of many crude comedies typically serve as a way to guide audiences from one joke to the next. Therefore, there’s added pressure for the jokes to actually land.

The first act in Mexico is reminiscent of The Hangover and some of Apatow’s work. The group of new friends gets into wild antics under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Marcus and Emily get the opportunity to lose their filter in a way that they never have before. “What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico,” but not for Ron and Kyla.

The majority of the movie takes place after returning from their vacation in Mexico. The jokes take a backseat to the friendship arc within their group. The comedy isn’t entirely gone, but it adds a sentimental quality to the story. As their two worlds collide, Marcus and Emily become increasingly panicked of potential drama looming underneath the surface. However, the theme of friendship remains front and center.

‘Vacation Friends’ just floats

Meredith Hagner as Kayla, John Cena as Ron, Lil Rel Howery as Marcus, and Yvonne Orji as Emily in 'Vacation Friends' on the edge of a cliff
Meredith Hagner, Yvonne Orji, Lil Rel Howery, and John Cena | Jessica Miglio/20th Century Studios

The best part of Vacation Friends is the physical humor. Howery and Cena get most of these scenes, making them particular stand-outs. The cast manages to elevate some of the jokes with quick-witted delivery and priceless facial reactions. However, most of the better moments can already be seen in the trailer.

Once Vacation Friends leaves Mexico, there’s a noticeable tonal shift. Some of the vulgar humor is still there, but the gags just don’t land. The movie goes a long time without any laughs, which is a concern for a comedy. However, the characters are likable enough.

Vacation Friends is an R-rated comedy that plays like a rom-com. It operates by the same rules, but the film doesn’t have an interest in romance. Rather, it takes tropes from the sub-genre and inserts them into a story about friendship. Vacation Friends is harmless entertainment with a few good laughs, but it’s not particularly memorable. Similar to Ron’s outlook on life, the film just kind of floats.

Vacation Friends is available now on Hulu.

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