Instead of trying something new, “Vacation Friends 2” crystallizes a faint formula: Chicago construction company owner Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) try to have a civil stay at a resort, only for the prank-prone, vulgar, happy-go-lucky Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) to nearly ruin it. In this latest installment, Marcus and Emily have invited the two newly married tornados to stay with them at a Caribbean hotel for five days. Ron and Kyla also have their baby (named Marcus) and are joined by the deadpan hotel manager from the first movie, Maurillio (Carlos Santos). Maurillio is mostly there to babysit.
Out of the blue and straight from San Quentin with a smirk, Steve Buscemi’s Reese appears as the latest unpredictable person who threatens to sabotage one of Marcus’ life moments. Reese is Kyla’s father, and he arrives at just the wrong time for the neurotic Marcus—Marcus is actually here to present to the hotel’s main owner about letting him build one in Chicago and impress people like VP Yeon (Ronnie Chieng). He can’t let his rowdy friends, or their surprise guest, mess this up.
Reese proves to be even more manipulative than Kyla used to be, but everyone is helpless to it. As a new way for “Vacation Friends” to get character-based, peer-pressure comedy out of enigmas, Reese becomes the one who pushes this movie’s contrived scenarios that suck the fun out of chaos. He pressures Marcus to surf, and because Ron is desperate for his father-in-law to like him, Ron tries to be the muscle for Reese’s shady business with a few men at the resort.
Buscemi could be doing so much else, but like his work in the Happy Madison films (of which this is a direct descendant), he at least leans into the perversity of such chintzy, forceful comedy. But the characters’ actions in general are just so forced, as are the set-ups, and so is the sense of enjoyment for a movie filmed in sunny Hawaii. You might find yourself forcing a laugh during one weak sequence to pretend this is all supposed to be fun.
The first “Vacation Friends” changed its focus about midway from resort chaos to become a wedding comedy, with Marcus worrying about impressing his future father-in-law and keeping Ron and Kyla at bay. “Vacation Friends 2” makes a similar turn, becoming an action-comedy as Reese’s idea of a scuba-diving trip ends in everyone dodging gunfire. Here, the movie could break from convention or take this strange narrative shift and run with it. Instead, the action has the same stagnant nature of its mild comedy set-pieces, which are essentially scripted as “and then they get drunk” or “and then they run away.”