Delivered straight to Hulu in 2021, Vacation Friends was broad and basic but also funny and sweet — finding a winning way to thread a needle on contemporary R-rated raunch that avoided veering into lazy insults of people or cultures. 

Delivered straight to Hulu this morning, Vacation Friends 2 is broad and basic but also funny and sweet — finding a winning way to thread a needle on contemporary R-rated raunch that avoids veering into lazy insults of people or cultures.

Look: As of this writing, even the IMDb plot summary for Vacation Friends 2 is the same as the first. Hulu even dropped Vacation Friends into the screening portal alongside its sequel for critics who either skipped it before or purged it from memory before 2021 even ended.

The first film concerned the consequences of what happens when people with whom you party hard halfway around the world unexpectedly crash into your everyday professional life. Indeed, Vacation Friends ended with everyone happy, but it also ended with them emotionally enriched and engaged in meaningful ways that are often tough for such bawdy comedies to conjure.

Vacation Friends 2 quickly recaptures the energy of its odd-couple pairings — buttoned-up Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) & Emily (Yvonne Orji) and batshit Ron (John Cena) & Kyla (Meredith Hagner) — but also introduces new characters and complications in typical sequel fashion.

Chief among them is Kyla’s deadbeat dad, Reece, who shows up unannounced fresh out of San Quentin to crash the foursome’s Caribbean vacation. As Reece, Steve Buscemi resurrects his Happy Madisonian momentum when pitching cryptocurrency schemes and pursuing an even bigger — and exponentially more dangerous — financial score. 

Reece also threatens to end Ron’s unbeaten streak of everyone he’s ever met liking him and upend Marcus’s ulterior motive for the getaway: He’s pitching his construction business to the Korean hotel magnate that owns the resort where they’re staying.

Pared from the original’s five-person script to a one-man effort from returning writer-director Clay Tarver, Vacation Friends 2 mashes up Meet the Fockers and Crocodile Dundee II (albeit with considerably less menace than the latter sequel’s strange insistence on intensity). The criminal stuff is essentially an excuse for editor Tim Roche to extend the expert editorial timing of the first film’s catamaran joke into crashing planes and careening automobiles.

The only train here is Cena’s unstoppable appeal and unvarnished sincerity. Cena long ago usurped Dwayne Johnson as the most eminently likable, charmingly charismatic pro wrestler turned actor. Game for anything, Cena is even more of an MVP here than in Vacation Friends, advanced by Ron’s newly uncovered sensitivities as a father who cares about the world in which his child will grow up. It’s also amazing how hair department head Melissa Forney and makeup department head Beverly Jo Pryor tweak Cena’s styling and stubble just enough to make Ron visibly strung out about Reece’s approval. Ditto costume designer Virginia Johnson’s incredible comic mileage out of Ron’s wardrobe — perpetually mismatched for anything other than comfort.

Amid the caution to avoid being caustic, Vacation Friends 2 also subverts seemingly simple subplots in ways that address the burden of other unreasonable, outdated expectations.

Marcus and Emily’s persistent ovulation-tracking app suggests this might be their last pre-pregnancy getaway. The 1988 version of Vacation Friends 2 would end with hoisted babies; Tarver’s take recognizes there is more to domestic tranquility than a dog-eared future.

That older version also would find Ronny Chieng’s Yeon to be the blowhard VP with a James Spader-esque determination to tank Marcus’s chances at the construction deal; thankfully, Chieng gets some complex, but still jovial, notes to play about the line between being friendly and fearful in navigating your cutthroat career. Lastly, the outdated version of Vacation Friends 2 would likely render returning hotel manager Maurillio (Carlos Santos) a flamboyant gay stereotype. Santos also gets far more to explore as a character whose gradual romantic appeal is rooted principally in his expressions of sensitivity, responsibility and confidence.

All the new characters and storylines soften the first film’s affable byplay between Orji and Hagner and minimize Howery to panicked stances and ADR-assisted howling. But Vacation Friends 2 illustrates that bizarrely believable, good-natured distraction has its place, however familiar. Ron can experience a relatable crisis over obtaining Reece’s approval and blow cocaine from a straw onto Kyla’s butthole to share the love. Get you a film that can do both.