Cena, Howery make ‘Vacation Friends’ a trip

This image released by Hulu shows Meredith Hagner, from left, Yvonne Orji, Lil Rel Howery and John Cena in a scene from “Vacation Friends.” (AP photo)

The pandemic has been cruel to more than a few movie genres, but have any been so hampered by the current state of the world as the vacation comedy?

Early on, it reminded us of what we couldn’t do, what we were postponing or canceling. It was an odd experience of wistfulness laced with bitterness watching people like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon dine and drink their way through Greece. Perhaps that’s why a comedy as absurdist and fanciful as “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” clicked with so many. It was just unreal enough to be palatable and silly enough to be cathartic. And then, of course, came “The White Lotus,” the dark comedy set at a ritzy Hawaiian resort that appealed on one level to some deep seeded superiority of not being “those people.”

It’s certainly not the fault of the movies and shows, most of which (with the notable exception of “The White Lotus”) were made or at least conceived of well before March 2020. Still, a genre that generally goes down easy became a bit hard to stomach.

The latest entry is ” Vacation Friends,” a long-gestating idea about a pair of mismatched couples who click on vacation that’s had everyone from Chris Pratt to Ice Cube in the lead. It finally started shooting, with Lil Rel Howery, John Cena, Yvonne Orji and Meredith Hagner now playing the foursome, in March 2020. Bad timing.

And yet, somehow out of the delays, the re-casting, the re-writes (Tom Mullen, Tim Mullen, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley and director Clay Tarver all have script credits), and the oddness of having to film in a pandemic, “Vacation Friends” came together to be a pretty fun time.

Howery plays Marcus, the straightlaced owner of a construction business who hopes to propose to his yuppie girlfriend Emily (Orji) on vacation in Mexico. Despite his meticulous planning, things go wrong from the start. But they get a lifeline when another couple, Ron (Cena) and Kyla (Hagner), invites them to crash in their presidential suite after being moved to tears by Marcus’ proposal.


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