Say this for “Vacation Friends 2”: It isn’t a drastic drop-off from the original. That has less to do with it being a better-than-usual sequel than it does with the first film being just okay. Still, one supposes there’s something to be said for consistency. Its setup repeats the odd-couple dynamic of its predecessor, with Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji once again playing the straight man/woman to John Cena and Meredith Hagner’s free-spirited loose cannons. Opposites attract, and so the two couples naturally became besties over several drunken nights in the first film. Not everything that happens in Mexico stays in Mexico, however, and so here we are again in writer-director Clay Tarver’s follow-up, which premieres on Hulu almost exactly two years after its predecessor.
This time around, the quartet is on holiday in the Caribbean with a newborn named after Marcus (Howery) in tow, as Ron (Cena) and Kyla (Hagner) have become parents in the interim. Joining them on babysitting duty is Maurillio (Carlos Santos), the hotel manager they befriended during their first escapade. They’re mixing business with pleasure, as Marcus, who owns a construction company, is hoping to close a deal with a Korean hotel conglomerate. Given that everything that can go wrong does go wrong in these movies, you can likely guess how smooth that process will be.
The best running gag continues to be Ron and Kyla — two wildcards who sow chaos everywhere they go, from garnishing margarita glasses with cocaine instead of salt to shooting empty beer bottles off each other’s heads — somehow charming every family member and business associate Marcus and Emily (Orji) are afraid they’ll make a scene in front of. This time the joke is self-reflexive, with Ron acknowledging it early on: “Everybody likes me,” he says. “Every single person I’ve ever met.” Until now, it’s been true: The two of them are nothing if not charming, and always come through for their new BFFs when it counts. If anything about these two movies works, it’s that interplay — the maniac with a heart of gold isn’t exactly innovative, but Cena’s cartoon-character energy jumps off the screen.
The title of Best Wrestler-Turned-Actor arguably goes to Dave Bautista, as the musclebound thespian has shown increasingly moving range in everything from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Blade Runner 2049” to “Glass Onion” and “Knock at the Cabin,” but Cena has proved a comedic force to be reckoned with in recent years. He’s like a jacked jester, never afraid to poke fun at himself if it means making everyone else laugh. (To say that this has come as a pleasant surprise to jaded WWE fans who’d grown tired of his eternal-good-guy character would be putting it mildly.) “Vacation Friends 2” isn’t his best work, but he is once again the most entertaining part of the film. Kudos are also in order for Howery, whose scene-stealing turn in “Get Out” led to an absolute explosion of roles (IMDb lists no fewer than 40 credits in the six years since he appeared in Jordan Peele’s thriller). Though he’s given less to do here than he was last time, he does anchor the proceedings in a way that prevents them from becoming completely unmoored.
There’s one person Ron can’t seem to win over, however: Kyla’s ne’er-do-well father (Steve Buscemi), recently released from San Quentin and unexpectedly at the same resort as our heroes. There’s other drama as well, like Emily secretly not wanting to have a baby as much as Marcus does, but all of it takes a backseat to the ever-ridiculous hijinks. This being a sequel that feels the need to one-up its predecessor, those shenanigans have escalated from interrupted wedding ceremonies to shootouts with the Cuban coast guard. Raising the stakes doesn’t make it any funnier, though. If anything, delving into action/comedy territory distracts from what made the original kinda-sorta touching at a few key moments: the heart beneath the hijinks. It’s still beating here, but not as strongly as it did the first time.
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