The bond between mother and daughter is one that can last through thick and thin, and it can even endure murderous kidnappers, tapeworms, and a healthy dose of familial resentment. Headstrong social-media junky Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) and her paranoid mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) are put to exactly that test when Emily is stuck with an extra ticket to Ecuador after a series of setbacks leave her jobless and single. She eventually coaxes her mother into joining her on the trip, and the two set off for South America with conflicting attitudes about the adventure. Emily’s naive approach to “living it up” quickly leads to Linda’s every seemingly illogical fear coming true, as they are kidnapped and held for ransom by a feared crime kingpin who’s well-known to the United States government.
After escaping from the captors thanks to a heroic act from her mother, Emily is forced to take matters into her own hands to get both of them to safety. With the help of fellow tourists Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack)—characters worthy of their own movie—Emily and Linda trek through the jungle; meanwhile, Emily’s agoraphobic brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) spurs U.S. forces in the area to search for them.
The star-studded cast do not disappoint, and they manage to lace this disturbing scenario with enough punch lines so audiences won’t focus on the fact that the main characters are facing untimely death at every turn. The quirky balance of danger and humor acts as the glue holding together a formulaic plot, and it adds a sense of personality to this story about every tourist’s worst nightmare. Not surprisingly, the film’s greatest strength is also one of its shortcomings, as it relies on the actors’ talent to paper over a lackluster conflict that is given away by the movie’s title.
However, one gets the feeling that director Jonathan Levine and screenwriter Katie Dippold are aware of this potential weakness, as they try to make up for the lack of originality by focusing on the entertaining and hilarious relationship between Emily and Linda. The film is a reminder that it’s usually worth listening to your mother, even as she cakes on excessive amounts of sunscreen and picks apart every personality flaw of her stubborn children. As they come to an understanding while working together to survive, Emily and Linda prove that a mom and her daughter can have fun and kick some ass at the same time.