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Cena comes of age

It has felt for a long time that John Cena has been living in the shadow of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Perhaps Hollywood has felt that there is only room for one wrestler-turned-superstar actor, who knows, but for some reason while Johnson has become the poster boy for franchises like ‘The Fast and the Furious’ and ‘Jumanji’, Cena has been more maligned despite the fact that he put in well-received performances in action films such as ‘Bumblebee’ and ‘The Suicide Squad’ as well as comedies including ‘Trainwreck’ and ‘Daddy’s Home’.

By David Griffiths

Sunday 12 September 2021, 11:00AM

John Cena (2nd from right), pictured here in ’Vacation Friends’, is finally finding recognition for roles he can deliver. Image: IMDB

John Cena (2nd from right), pictured here in ’Vacation Friends’, is finally finding recognition for roles he can deliver. Image: IMDB

An acknowledgement finally seems to have been made in Cena’s rising stature in his casting alongside Vin Diesel in F9, the latest blockbuster in the Fast and the Furious franchise.

In fact when you look at Cena’s career to date he has done remarkably well when he has found himself in the comedy genre. His performance alongside comedy great Amy Schumer in Trainwreck was seriously under-appreciated while he even did a decent job in the family comedy Playing With Fire. That is saying something when you consider how many action stars have come unstuck when tackling the family comedy realm – isn’t that right Mr Diesel (The Pacifier) and Mr Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop).

Now Cena returns to comedy with his role of Ron in the new Disney+ comedy Vacation Friends. Ron is your traditional trailer-trash loser who is married to Kyla (Meredith Hagner – Search Party) who is as equally trashy and forthright.

It is therefore quite a culture shock for respectable hard-working couple Marcus (Lil Rel Howery – Tag) and Emily (Yvonne Orji – Night School) who find themselves having to share a room with Ron and Kyla during their holiday in South America. To their credit Marcus and Emily put aside the fact that Kyla and Ron ruined their impending engagement and find themselves having fun with the couple during the rest of the holiday. They then wish them farewell at the airport and say they will never see their ‘vacation friends’ ever again.

With that in mind imagine the surprise when Marcus and Emily arrive at a country resort for their wedding only for Ron and Kyla to suddenly show-up with Ron introducing himself to Emily’s uptight and judgemental family as his best friend. Then of course there are also questions about what happened during the drug-fuelled night in paradise that Marcus cannot remember.

Don’t let the fact that Vacation Friends has gone straight to a streaming platform. Had this been in non-COVID times this film would have been released in cinemas – and with good reason, because screenwriter/director Clay Tarver (Silicon Valley) has delivered a more than passable comedy.

As a film, Vacation Friends is more for the kind of person who finds films like Horrible Bosses or Game Night funny. This is far from a work of art – but the comedy, despite the fact that at times can be kind of juvenile, is the type that you find yourself laughing at before embarrassingly looking around at the people around you. The one thing you will do while watching Vacation Friends is very quickly realise that these kinds of people even exist in your own friendship group.

CBRE Phuket

The film does have a strange feeling that it could have almost been two films. The storyline and events that occur in South America feel like a film upon themselves and the same can be said for the events of the wedding, yet somehow the screenwriting team, which includes Clay Tarver, manage to bring the two storylines together exceptionally well.

The real key to this film working is the fact that the audience, like Marcus, have no idea what happened on that drug-fuelled night. When hints begin to be dropped at what might have happened and why Ron and Karly have turned up to the wedding the suspense is turned up to 10 in the film. Given that at the same time the tension rises that the laughs keep coming it is little wonder why this film should be considered a winner.

The screenplay also allows for a fair amount of characterisation, which these kinds of films often lack, and the result is something that the cast really get to play with. Cena and Howery take their characters and run with them making for some truly comedic moments while the comedy styling of Hagner also makes her a joy to watch.

If you like an outrageous comedy then Vacation Friends is certainly a film that you need to check out. Once again, Mr Cena delivers the comedy gold in a way that is guaranteed to make you laugh.

Vacation Friends is for an adult audience but is currently screening on Disney+.

3/5 Stars

David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus

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