Nothing could go wrong this vacation. Absolutely nothing.
Maybe that’s not strictly accurate. No vacation is foolproof. Even the sunniest seasons in Mexico can come with a threat of rain. Even the fanciest of five-star hotels could be inexplicably overrun by killer hornets.
But Marcus did his best to eliminate variables and boost the odds. He made reservations months ago. He planned every second of his upcoming trip with his girlfriend, Emily. Their room would be festooned with rose petals, graced with chilled champagne and resonant with the dulcet tones of Bill Withers. And to make sure everything was just right, he called the hotel so often that the manager now recognizes him by the sound of his voice.
“If she says no after all this, I will marry you,” the manager reassures him.
See, Marcus especially wanted everything to be perfect this trip because of those four words he planned to say to Emily: Will you marry me? Vacation perfection, he figures, raises the odds that he’ll hear another two: I will. And the hotel room is the first step toward what he hopes will be a shock-and-awe sort of vacation.
But when the doors to their engagement suite are flung open, the sound of gurgling water drowns out Bill Withers. The folks renting out the palatial Presidential Suite above their room apparently left the jacuzzi running; the water caved in the ceiling and flooded Marcus’ perfect plans.
Well, at least the room delivered in the shock department.
With only one other room available in the whole region—at the Airport Best Western—Marcus decides to bend his knee in hotel’s lobby. Emily, despite everything, is thrilled.
She’s not the only one. Ron and Kyla—two well-toned hotel guests who just lost their jetski somewhere in the Atlantic—watched the whole proposal and are feeling all the feelings. They know that Marcus and Emily don’t really have a place to stay anymore, so they promptly invite the newly engaged couple to shack up with them—an “engagement present for your beautiful souls.”
Marcus and Emily aren’t sure about sharing a hotel room with a couple of strangers. Besides, would the room even have enough, um, room?
Why, yes. Yes, they have plenty of room. See, they’re staying in the palatial Presidential Suite. “It has a jacuzzi and everything,” Kyla says.
Even the best-planned vacations can go wrong, Marcus knows. But what happens when you take your plans and throw them to the wind—along with caution, common sense and any regard for the law?
Marcus is about to find out.
As we’ll see, Ron and Kyla are not paragons of responsibility. But they do seem to be genuinely caring, giving souls who truly want the best for their newly discovered best friends. They’re generous and grateful. And when they all intersect for Marcus and Emily’s high-pressure wedding in the States (seven months after the Mexican vacation), they often prove to be a surprisingly positive influence amid the prickly personalities who are present.
Marcus, we learn, is a pretty good guy, too. He owns a construction company. Without giving too much away, his employees are deeply loyal to him for the sacrifices he’s made for them.
This otherwise raunchy movie also offers a nod or two, oddly, to the importance of marriage—particularly when it comes to raising healthy kids.
Vacation Friends features two Marcus-and-Emily weddings. The first takes place during the couple’s Mexican vacation, where they’re joined in matrimony by a Mayan shaman. (He sends off a text to seal the deal). He later marries off another couple as well. As for the second, more traditional stateside wedding … well, we never actually go inside a church during the movie, but there may have been one involved!
Kyla mentions that she and Ron have been “spiritually” married six or seven times, but never tied the knot “governmentally.” Ron discovers a mushroom that, colloquially, is named after a private part of the devil’s presumed anatomy. Eating it, he adds, will help you “talk to God and get a rent-controlled apartment together.”
During the last night of the two couples’ shared Mexican vacation, Marcus fades in and out of consciousness, apparently having sex with both his kinda-wife (he and Emily had just gotten married by the Mayan shaman mentioned earlier, though the ceremony’s legal binding feels a bit dubious) and with Kyla. We see each woman looking down on him during the evening, moving as if intimately involved with him and with their shoulders uncovered (but nothing else visible).
When Ron and Kyla crash Marcus’ and Emily’s second weeding, Kyla’s several months pregnant, and Marcus is deeply concerned that the baby might be his. (She announces the pregnancy via a tasteless joke—describing the baby as a “growth in my abdomen” that doctors say will keep growing. Ron adds that it’ll eventually remove itself “through the vagina.”)
[Spoiler Warning] In reality, Emily and Kyla were actually having sex with each other during that night in Mexico—but performing the act on top of Marcus, for some reason.
We see Ron’s uncovered bum. Kyla wears a revealing bikini, and both she and Emily sport some cleavage in various swimsuits and outfits throughout the film. Kyla graphically discusses the sexual performance of her lovers. In Mexico, Kyla makes several references to noisy, kinky sex. Ron works as a park ranger, and he says that his main job is to keep teens from stimulating themselves on the stalagmites. There’s a reference to “tree pubes” and some dialogue involving the male anatomy.
We hear a joking reference to a “foursome” and human trafficking. A stranger dances seductively with Kyla. When Marcus asks Ron if he’s going to step in and do something, he says there’s no need; shortly thereafter, Kyla head-butts the guy and starts being him up.
During the Mexico trip, Ron shoots a bottle off Marcus’ head, then demands that Marcus do the same with him. We don’t see the shooting, but do see a big, bloody bandage wrapped around Ron’s head afterward, and a bit of blood rests on his chest. (Ron says the bullet just grazed him.)
Marcus punches someone in the face and chokes another person (who passes out from a lack of oxygen). He and Emily’s brother don’t get along, and the latter continually threatens Marcus (in retaliation for an earlier skirmish). A massive melee breaks out on the eve before a wedding. (Another couple of guys seem to fight at a construction site, too.) A catamaran plows into rocks and flips over, necessitating a rescue. Emily’s father hosts an apparently non-lethal fox hunt, and a fox seems to attack Marcus, snarling and snapping at his face as he holds it at bay. (He nearly kills the animal, but he’s stopped before he does.) We see a Mexican wrestling contest. A car crashes through a fence.
Kyla—ever one for a tasteless joke—tells Emily that Ron kidnapped her when she was 12 and has been holding her hostage for years. At an airport, both she and Ron joke, loudly, that Marcus and Emily are terrorists. We hear one or two stories about Ron’s military experience, and we learn that one of his best friends recently died. Kyla advises a woman to hit her husband in the testicles.
More than 50 f-words are used throughout the film, along with nearly 40 s-words. We also hear several uses apiece of “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused more than a dozen times—half of those with the word “d–n” included—and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
“Everything you touch turns into drugs!” a horrified Marcus tells Ron after he swallows a psychedelic mushroom. And for our purposes, that’s pretty much true.
We’ll get the mushroom scene out of the way first. Marcus eats it, thinking that Ron’s just offering a run-of-the-mill edible fungi. It’s not, and Ron consumes one too so that Marcus won’t be tripping alone. Soon, the sky turns a variety of different colors; flowers and butterflies sprout from nowhere. Marcus watches someone turn into a literal clown, as circus-like cannons prepare to fire the people stuffed in their barrels.
It’s a strange trip indeed. Then again, Marcus probably should’ve known better than to take strange mushrooms from this man.
When Marcus and Emily first see Ron and Kyla, they’re jetskiing, with Kyla apparently vaping as the craft skims across the water. And when they all gather in the Presidential Suite, Marcus and Emily are offered (and accept) margaritas. When Marcus says that the salt on the rim doesn’t taste very salty, Ron tells him that it’s not salt: It’s cocaine.
“Why would you put cocaine in margaritas?” Marcus asks.
“Because we’re on … vacation?” Kyla says, suggesting everyone does it. We’re soon informed that the couple snuck the powder into the country in a shampoo bottle. “They’re the only people I’ve ever heard to smuggle drugs into Mexico,” Marcus tells Emily.
Those margaritas launch the four of them into what looks like a weeklong trip of utter intoxication and impairment. A montage shows them visit at least a dozen bars, drinking beers and shots all the way through. In one bar, patrons gather around Ron as someone begins to pour a bottle of liquor directly down his throat: Subsequent scenes show that even as the patrons get bored, Ron’s still drinking bottles dry (as Kyla cheers her encouragement). They smoke marijuana and use cocaine elsewhere, too. And while Marcus—a non-drug user when the movie starts—rejects Ron’s drug overtures initially, he eventually caves.
Kyla works for a doctor, alleging that the “free pills” are worth it. She gives some of these pills to Emily’s elderly grandmother (which seem to perk the older woman right up), much to Emily’s horror. (We’re later told that all those pills are herbal supplements, not drugs.)
Ron, Marcus and others drink beer on a golf course (against the course’s policies). At the wedding party, Marcus’s parents give Emily’s parents whiskey. People partake of an open bar and express a longing for wine. We’re told that in the Army, if you “punch a man, you by him a beer.” Cocaine makes an appearance on another cluster of margaritas. Ron loudly tells Marcus in an airport—intended as a joke, that “No, I will not mule your illegal drugs!” There’s some discussion of DMT, the chemical that your body may release (according to Kyla) when you die. There’s a reference to heroin.
Ron seems to have a sixth sense about when a bird is about to defecate. (We see that curious skill put to the test twice.) Someone complains about another character passing gas throughout a long road trip. There’s a reference to someone vomiting. Kyla says the doctor she works for has had “to change his name a million times because the feds are always after him.” When Kyla claims that Ron kidnapped her when she was 12, she augments the story by saying, “He makes me go to the bathroom in a lawn chair.” A daring stunt involves the covering of one’s testicles (if one is not so daring). We hear a reference to “going No. 2.”
Marcus and Ron make bets during a golf game with the other members of their foursome—and cheat during the match, as well. Ron and Kyla destroy rented and private property with some frequency. When the two couples sink a boat, Kyla says that because of the insurance, the owner probably came out ahead on the accident. People tell all manner of lies.
If you’ve read the review thus far, you probably don’t need to read anything more. You know what sort of movies this is. But to sum up:
Ron and Kyla seem quite nice. They are also drunk and high and wildly irresponsible most of the time.
The movie presents this couple as Vacation Friends’ exasperating heroes. Sure, they’re a little … extreme, but at least they got Marcus to loosen up, right? And for all their faults, these couples become real, through thick-and-thin, through rain-and-shine friends—loyal to a fault.
There’s a bit of merit in that, I suppose … a grain of goodness in an ocean of problems. But is it possible to be … loyal to a fault?
When I was a teen, a high-achieving friend of mine once told me that friendships were critical to becoming the sort of person we become. As such, you want to make good people your good friends—people who will not only accept you as you are, but push you, too; push you to be good and kind and honest and strong.
That has always seemed like sensible advice to me. And often, when you hear about celebrities or sports figures who go awry, we hear rumblings of the bad influences in their lives—their old (or new) friends who encourage them to stay out too late, to party into the morning, to make bad decisions.
To, maybe, put cocaine on their margarita glasses.
Certainly, I’m not suggesting that we should only hang out with great people. Jesus hung out with all kinds as the Pharisees sniffed and scowled. But Jesus, I think, would tell us to lift the people around us up—not allow ourselves to be pulled down. The movie suggests otherwise. And that—along with ever-so-many other content concerns—is why it fails.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.