“There’s enough talent and charm to lift off the ground, and provide for a serviceable, if underwritten, final product.”
by Ken Bakely
Sometimes, the title is enough. Alex Richenbach’s Ibiza is just the sort of raunchy, fast-paced comedy that you’d expect from the name, as its main characters descend on the famed Spanish island – the world’s nightclub and EDM capital – and get themselves into a wide variety of bizarre situations. The setup is cut from a familiar cloth: Harper (Gillian Jacobs), an overworked businesswoman, flies to Spain on a work trip, and brings her fun-loving friends Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) and Leah (Phoebe Robinson) along. The two insist on making the most out of this impromptu vacation, and despite Harper’s objections, within a few hours of their landing, the trio hit up the local nightlife, and Harper catches the eye of Leo (Richard Madden), a world-famous DJ. One missed connection later, and he’s off to the titular locale to play another gig. The women follow, navigating more wild scenarios, hoping to meet back up, all while making sure that Harper can make it back to Barcelona in time for her actual work duties.
Do things work out with her and Leo? Does she close the big business deal she was sent there to do? It doesn’t take a lot of guesswork to figure out the eventual answers, and the movie’s attempts to subvert how exactly the conclusions come about is discordant to the flakiness of its own foundations. Ibiza never reaches the affecting, breakout heights of something like Girls Trip, but Richenbach makes a valuable decision in standing back and letting his actors play things out on their own, allowing us to catch everything without interference or doctoring. However, there’s not much for him to start with, anyway. Lauryn Kahn’s script moves with an episodic flow, building setpieces around a few major gags, and then moving onto the next thing, almost resetting completely. The film is absent of any major surprises, from neat resolutions to an expected parade of fair-weather EDM on the soundtrack.
Yet for all its uniform credentials, the movie is frequently lively and funny. It’s attributable to the dynamic energy of the cast, led by Gillian Jacobs. Eventually, they put aside their characters’ respective personalities (never really established beyond Harper’s initial uptight demeanor and Nikki and Leah’s laid-back foiling), and make it about their abilities in responding to each scene. They commit to even the most unoriginal punchlines, find new spins in old setups, and propel things along a spectacular comic skill. Verbal puns and slapstick run abound in Ibiza, though the script fragmented to the point of avoiding big callbacks or intricate joke-weaving. Keeping this in mind alongside the performances, the film comes off as an extended shaggy dog story. Sequences could be rearranged, and gags moved around, without harming the proceedings.
It’s not where the movie genuinely wants to go – late-stage attempts at emotional climaxes fall precipitously flat – though there’s enough talent and charm to lift off the ground, and provide for a serviceable, if underwritten, final product. Outrageous physical gags and madcap developments turn things into a kind of R-rated spin on a traditional buddy sitcom. The feature runtime is too long to overcome a lack of real-feeling personas, but Jacobs, Bayer, and Robinson have a comfortable chemistry, as if they actually were dropped into this film after developing their bond over a few hypothetical seasons.
Their very presence resonates in ways that the unfocused plot can’t, from a zany discovery made when checking into their hotel room, to selling their characters’ lived-in friendship as the backdrop through which all else has to occur. When the movie cuts through its own clutter, it’s because of a combination of efforts that’s motley and somewhat unexpected. But in those moments when the cast is firing on all cylinders, there’s an accomplished yet breezy joy that carries us over the rough writing patches. It’s competently made, earnestly mounted, and fiercely executed. The disappointment is in seeing how it could have been so much more, yet it’s hard to deny that Ibiza spends a good chunk of its time getting closer than we might have thought.