Movies like “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” seem like a great idea on paper. You get talented comedic actors like Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and give them an exotic location with talented co-stars. You’d think the finishing result would be the equivalent of something like “Bridesmaids,” but that’s not the case. The film follows two lifelong friends, Barb and Star, who decide to leave their mid-western town for the first time. This leads them to the exotic “Vista Del Mar” hotel, with a serious array of hijinks. If that makes you think it’s a Saturday Night Live skit that never made it to air, you’re not far off. What is trying to be the film’s biggest selling point turns out to be its biggest detriment.
Wiig and Mumolo as comedic powerhouses are always entertaining to watch, no matter the story. What makes this the slightest of the bunch is that they’re only given one bit of character to play— mid-westerners. I will be the first to admit that I laughed quite a bit for the first 20 minutes or so. You can feel the chemistry between these two, and you easily buy them as friends. However, around that 20-minute mark, I realized that funny accents were just about all the film had to offer. These characters have to ride a line between sympathetic and incredibly obnoxious, and it’s never straddled in an interesting way. Both Barb and Star feel like they belong in a Coen Brothers film, but not one of the good ones.
The thing that I find the most unfortunate in this female-centric comedy is that the male characters are given the best (but still not good) moments. Jamie Dornan as another guest at the hotel with more sinister intentions, actually gets to be funny. I won’t spoil why he’s there, but Wiig and Mumolo force him to try humor. Not everything lands, but I did laugh on several occasions. Damon Wayans Jr. as another member of Dornan’s scheme, also gets some laughs. Even with these characters, there’s never a moment to fully buy them as real people, mainly due to the varying tonal shifts that go absolutely nowhere.
Written by our leads, there’s a lot crammed into a near two-hour running time that doesn’t feel needed. We get musical numbers, a terrorist plot, and even betrayals that go nowhere. The thing that I couldn’t help but wonder is if anyone told Wiig and Mumolo no? I can see why this is funny on paper, but the on-screen translation doesn’t land. It’s a rather frustrating combination when you know the talent involved could do and create better material. That’s why I can’t even blame director Josh Greenbaum, who feels like a studio “hired gun” that’s just there to let this cast play. If there was a better focus, we might have ended up with something more than just lackluster parts.
“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” isn’t even a film I can say is terrible. It’s one that just doesn’t seem as strong as it could be. You can tell this cast of actors is having a great time, but sometimes that isn’t enough. When you have the people who wrote “Bridesmaids,” one of the early 2010’s best comedies, you expect more. I will say that if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the best laugh with young actor Reyn Doi. Like the other male characters in the film, I won’t spoil his role, but he did give me the biggest laughs. For something to rent at home with a $19.99 price tag, I can’t recommend this one. When it eventually appears on a streaming service, and you want some background noise, it may do the trick.