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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 3.33%
Pretty Bad: 43.33%
Total Crap53.33%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Couples Retreat
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by Erik Childress

"See It And Then Break-Up"
2 stars

The prospect of laying in a few digs at couples counseling must have been a ripe concept. Another part of the self-help racket where relationships get to work out their feelings and roleplay arguing for an audience of one with a notepad. Combine that with a tropical paradise where second honeymoons become a forced lesson in sharing akin to a timeshare scam where freebies are beholden to someone else's schedule. Couples Retreat is very much like that, promising a little dream team for comedy lovers, plenty of eye candy and a situation just itching for a satiric slant. Then when you get there, you discover that your relationship with these people aren't all its cracked up to be, nothing is what you hoped it would be and you would much rather leave and get a refund then spend time and money to be miserable. Like any good vacation, the film does show some promise early on until it becomes readily apparent that Couples Retreat is a giant black hole in the center of the comedy universe sucking in the best ideas and situations from other entities into an inescapable ride to nothingness.

Dave (Vince Vaughn) is dealing with the everyday crises, monotonies and joys of being a suburban family man. His wife, Ronnie (Malin Akerman) insists on his help picking out tiles and his youngest son has the bladder control of Peter O'Toole on a bender. He's also being barraged with calls from his best friends. Divorced and broke Shane (Faizon Love) needs his help in impressing his new 20 year-old girlfriend, Trudy (Kali Hawk). Jason (Jason Bateman) is hounding them all about a new powerpoint presentation he wants to show them and Joey (Jon Favreau) is despondent about wanting to see it. Alas, Jason and his wife, Lucy (Kristen Bell) bring their equipment to the kids' birthday party and breaks the mood by announcing their intention to divorce. They have a plan though to work through their issues at an all-inclusive island resort filled with fun and food and a little therapy in-between. With a group rate discount in tow, they all but extort their friends into making a decision by midnight to join them.

Once at the island of Eden though, the couples ignoring their issues are hardened to learn that they are in for the full package as well. Participate in the crack-of-dawn skills building or go home. Jason and Lucy clearly have some problems backwashed from being unable to conceive, but what about the others? Joey and his wife, Lucy (Kristin Davis) got a daughter from prom night and have basically toughed it out despite not having sex anymore. Shane is a large dude who can't keep up on the activity circuit with the much younger Trudy. Dave and Ronnie would seem to be the happiest of them all, until their counselor starts exposing his "bulldozing" of her everyday needs with his disinterest. Milton couldn't lose this paradise more quickly.

He could however take us through the rings of hell that Couples Retreat circles in its muddled screenplay and clunky direction from first-time director, Favreau's longtime producer partner and star of A Christmas Story, Peter Billingsley. Early on we can spot the machinations which are desperately trying to inform the audience that this isn't going to be all wacky set pieces. Before we even make it to the island, there are five, count 'em, five instances where characters cut back on the comedy to reveal a little piece of their feelings and the soft music swells to an ever prominent level. We get it, you're going for pathos along with yuks. Respectable in theory, but dismal in execution. Once we make it to Eden and we see that such omnipresent members of the modern comic ensemble (John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong as two of the counselors) aren't about to be mocked for their Dr. Phil-o-shit speeches, the film ends up with a bigger commitment problem than any of the couples being preached to.

Probably at the point Vaughn's Dave ruins everyone's evening with his self-centered and overblown tirade about being a shark attack victim is when you will feel a complete detachment from these characters for good. They simply are not likable individuals. Kali Hawk's Trudy is written to be an immature pill and she even amps that up. Favreau and Davis spend their vacation lusting after anyone but each other. Davis' fawning over her masseuse and yoga instructor could have been a playful shot at her Sex and the City co-star, Kim Cattrall, but instead comes off as hatefully whorish and unfunny. (On second thought maybe it's an homage.) Couples Retreat also completes the unfathomable task of making Jason Bateman completely intolerable. Even in performances where Bateman is supposed to be irritable or cheekily annoying such as State of Play or the upcoming Up In The Air, he seems impossible to entirely hate. Here as Jason though, he's a grating little perfectionist who constantly blames others and never says the right thing to his wife or his friends.

Going over the list of connections to movies where everything wrong about Couples Retreat actually worked, you can start with Bateman's character in Juno, a husband towards the end of his rope unsure of wanting to continue with a wife intent on having a child. Look just a month back and compare the Favreau/Davis couple to that of Bateman and Kristen Wiig in Extract. There Mike Judge unfolded his asexual homelife into a screwball plot involving a gigolo, but it was the emotional (if comically excessive) reality of his frustration that made it believable. When Joey and Lucy finally have their big carthartic confession, we're unsure if they are telling the truth or just trying to make each other feel bad. Just another incarnation of the SLAP-SLAP-KISS of break-up/make-up. Greatest of all though is how Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller mined much of the same territory in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Beyond the tropical setting and Kristen Bell as the center of a relationship gone sour, there was real poignancy in the moments between the big laughs, particularly as Segal and Bell had to confront their own character flaws head on. Just for pure comedy film school, contrast the emotional and physical nakedness of Segal in the opening scene of that film with Faizon Love supposedly shy about going commando here. Segal dropped his towel instantly and the longer it went on the more deliriously uncomfortable it became. Couples Retreat spends several minutes talking about it and when its all over it's nothing more than a big, giant ass staring us in the face.

It's all part of several comic decimals being repeated ad nauseum as if someone heard the "rule of three" in comedy school but didn't understand it. Faizon's buttocks, an "asstastic" password plus the semi-ironic reward bestowed upon Vaughn in the end and then the son's bathroom issue is still only a fraction of how many jokes are made at the expense of the penis or ball cancer. We understand the "domestic violence" and "happy ending" jokes guys. Don't need them verbalized for us. Beyond its own control, Couples Retreat thrices up on the spiel of people not getting to live out their 20s due to their adult responsibilites, something I've personally already heard in the past week in both the Uma Thurman film, Motherhood, and TV's Cougar Town. Speaking of which, Vaughn's Dave is hinted early on at having something to do with video games and this job is an excuse used by both him and his wife over his current stress level. Turns out he's not the creator of Guitar Hero. He just sells them. Maybe that means marketing. Maybe he works for a large retailer. Whatever the case is, he's apparently had enough time to practice at expert level to hustle Eden's manager in a wasteful sequence that guaranteed that all involved got a free copy.

Of the credited screenwriters, it's a safe guess that the first draft was drawn up by Dana Fox, whose resume includes the wretched The Wedding Date and What Happens In Vegas. Couples Retreat reeks of that basement level of comedy only to be propped up with a laugh here and there by the later credited Vaughn and Favreau. Vaughn has turned in his third straight dud (of quality not of box office) - The Break-Up isn't good but not of the level of Fred Claus, Four Christmases and this. His wiseguy motormouth shtick is wearing thin and taking the appearance of Woody Allen's worst efforts as of late. Favreau is a better writer than this though and his Joey gets the majority of what few decent laughs there are. The guy who gave us both Swingers and Made should have seen on the page or in the editing room where this wasn't working and I give him the benefit of the doubt of trying to work in some of that classic interplay that made those cult favorites. You can see it during a scene in a snowing sauna where Vaughn and Favreau rancor through the moral implications of cheating within your mind. It's a vivacious back-and-forth that you wish the film had more of. But just as you get wrapped up in it and hope that it will go on longer, they are interrupted for the benefit of a gay joke. In the end there are all sorts of puns to not recommend the film as a retreat not worth taking and I may as well go out with such a lame tagger since why should the pressure be on me to come up with something witty when no one in the film could come up with anything better than taking a dump for their coda?

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originally posted: 10/09/09 15:00:00
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User Comments

12/24/13 Michelle O crude rude & socially unacceptable--- NOT in a funny STOOGES way. 1 stars
11/01/10 mr.mike It was a 2 hour movie. That's 90 minutes too long. 2 stars
9/15/10 Cat Unfunny and stupid. Man, did I hate Jason Bateman's character. 1 stars
5/06/10 Corky Love Favreau and Vaughn, but this just didn't click... 3 stars
10/11/09 Jack Emory a complete waste of time, talent and money 1 stars
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  09-Oct-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Feb-2010


  DVD: 09-Feb-2010

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