Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Movie Review: Couples Retreat

Couples Retreat **
Directed By:
Peter Billingsley.
Written By: Jon Favreau & Vince Vaughn & Dana Fox.
Starring: Vince Vaughn (Dave), Jason Bateman (Jason), Faizon Love (Shane), Jon Favreau (Joey), Malin Akerman (Ronnie), Kristen Bell (Cynthia), Kristin Davis (Lucy), Kali Hawk (Trudy), Tasha Smith (Jennifer), Carlos Ponce (Salvadore), Peter Serafinowicz (Stanley), Jean Reno (Marcel), Temuera Morrison (Briggs).

Couples Retreat is a movie that takes a wonderful comedic cast, and an interesting idea and completely and totally wastes the potential to make a good comedy. I almost feel like co-stars and co-writers Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall and thought that it would be fun to make a movie in a tropical paradise, and decided to write a screenplay around it. The casting of Kristen Bell, Sarah Marshall herself, in one of the key roles brings the comparison more out into the open. But this movie has none of the charm or intelligence of that one. It is a sloppily written and directed movie, and its cast just flails onscreen trying to make us laugh.

Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are having marital problems, and are considering getting a divorce. In a last ditch effort to save their marriage, they want to go on a weeklong trip to Eden, a tropical resort and marriage counseling seminar, but cannot afford to go on their own. But if they can convince three other couples to come with them, they can. So they reach out to their friends. Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) have two young kids, and jobs that keep them busy, and although they love each other, they don’t get a chance to do much together. Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristen Davis) have been together since high school, and had to get married after he knocked her up. Now 17 years later, they are bored with each other and have both had affairs. Shane (Faizon Love) has just gotten a divorce, and is trying to drown his sorrows by dating a 20 year old, Trudy (Kali Hawk). The three other couples agree to go, because they think that they can just hang out on the beach and have fun. But they get more than they bargained for. The marriage counseling aspect is the main focus – and mandatory – and soon all the couples are having to confront their issues in one “hilarious” sequence after another.

The problem with Couples Retreat is that there is no flow to the movie. The scenes do not really fit together, and sort crash into each other instead of flowing naturally. So while isolated moments or scenes can be amusing at times, the film fails to build any comic momentum. Worse still, all the characters are written as one note ciphers, who do not change or evolve from one scene to the next, so the entire “happy ending” of the movie rings completely false. I don’t think that any of the couples in this movie really learns anything about themselves or their relationships. They fight because the screenplay tells to them, and makeup for the same reason.

Vince Vaughn is one of those actors who almost automatically makes me laugh. By this point, he has pretty much perfected his comic persona of the fast talking, immature man child, and plays it to the hilt. When he wants to, he can also be a very good dramatic actor, or at the very least, provide some more dramatic weight to his comedic performances – as he did in The Break Up. But here, he is one autopilot, and while he still has some amusing moments, he cannot do much with his role as written. Since he co-wrote the movie though, he really has no one to blame but himself. The rest of the cast is even more one note, with the women in particular getting the shaft.

The film was directed by Peter Billingsley – that’s right, little Ralphie from A Christmas Story is all grown up now and directing. He seems to have a basic, point and shoot type of style, hoping that the actors themselves will make each scene funny. Directing comedies often looks effortless, but it’s hard, and Billingsley just doesn’t have it yet.
Couples Retreat is amusing in fits and starts, but never goes anywhere. It is merely a distraction – the type of film you forget in the parking lot after leaving the theater.

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