Vacation Friends 2: A Comedy Sequel That Struggles to Recreate the Magic
There’s a certain breed of domestic farce that seems nearly impossible to sequelize properly. Big hits like Meet the Parents, Horrible Bosses, and Bad Moms spawn uneven follow-ups like Meet the Fockers, Horrible Bosses 2, and A Bad Moms Christmas, which labor to compete with their predecessors by attempting to heighten simple, relatable concepts (fumbling through an introduction to your future in-laws; hating your boss; embracing an imperfect version of motherhood) with previously unseen parents and/or grandparents, new babies, or more complicated plotting. Just to be safe, Vacation Friends 2 tries its hand at all three – and throws in an impress-the-boss plot straight out of an old sitcom.
It’s understandable that writer-director Clay Tarver would want to up the ante of Vacation Friends. That 2021 movie was already a discount-store version of the aforementioned high-concept social-conflict comedies, with a dash of The Hangover: Straitlaced Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) engage in uncharacteristic vacation debauchery with wild new friends Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), only to find the other couple’s aggressive form of life-loving enthusiasm difficult to shake. With the foursome already unlikely pals when Vacation Friends 2 begins, the movie must strain to introduce new conflicts: Marcus has semi-inexplicably invited his unpredictable besties on a trip to secure a new gig for his construction company. Ron and Kyla are also new parents, and must further contend with the arrival of Kyla’s father (Steve Buscemi), just out of jail and ready to facilitate a possible crime plot.
The Decline of Comedy Sequels
Put together, this creates maximum shenanigans but surprisingly minimal laughs. One of the movie’s best ideas is to make Ron, the gung-ho risk-taker with a heart of gold, flummoxed by Kyla’s lowlife father, who is seemingly the only person in the world Ron can’t strong-arm into chumminess. For a while, it’s fun to watch try-anything muscle-man Cena sweat and fail to impress a clipped, disdainful Buscemi. But the comic friction wears down, and soon the two actors are just playing a couple of guys who don’t like each other that much while forced to spend time together. Similarly, Ron and Kyla’s new baby is introduced with flair, even a little daring, before the movie loses its nerve and pushes him to the side, in service of wan babysitting jokes.
Underwhelming Comic Situations
That’s how most of the comic situations in Vacation Friends 2 play out. To the extent that they escalate at all, the process happens slowly, as if each subplot is wearily making its way up a long flight of stairs, while the game actors attempt to cheer things along with plenty of R-rated language. Cena and Hagner still attack their roles – essentially joke machines disguised as chaos agents – with gusto. But they’re stuck performing tired, wannabe-shocking scenes about cocaine and cremated remains. (No prizes for guessing how these elements are combined.) Not every joke flops, but the laughs tend to wither in isolation. For example, Tarver has a fondness for framing big slapstick gags in the background – a classic and effective comedic device that he often steps on with obvious setup.
A Disappointing Follow-Up
The whole movie feels like it’s making that mistake. Arriving just two years after the original, Vacation Friends 2 aspires to freewheeling irreverence, but settles for screeching tires and canned outbursts. Any observations it might have about couple-friend dynamics, new and prospective parenthood, or repairing fractured familial relationships are drowned out. These don’t need to be stunning insights into the human condition, but some greater sense of humanity would go a long way. In trying to avoid going through the motions, Vacation Friends 2 just keeps adding more motions.
Vacation Friends 2 attempts to recapture the comedic magic of its predecessor but falls short. The tired and recycled jokes, along with lackluster character development, hinder the film from reaching its full potential. While John Cena and Meredith Hagner give energetic performances, the overall execution leaves much to be desired. Fans of the original may find a few chuckles here and there, but overall, the sequel fails to deliver the same level of entertainment.