Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Couples Retreat (2010) Review

Couples Retreat
Retreat from the Theater Quickly

Actors and filmmakers like to have fun on a movie set in order to lighten the mood and keep things relaxed. A little joking here and here, maybe some harmless ribbing or intentionally humorous flubbed takes happens a lot during filming and is fine as long as a quality movie emerges from within. Well what if a group of acting friends all got together, hammered out a script that would allow them to all have fun during filming, and then asked another friend to tag along as a director so that they can tell the studio that they were at least producing a movie with all the budget money. Couples Retreat feels like that kind of movie.

Plot Synopsis: Dave and Ronnie have a comfortable domestic life, but tend to put their kids and work ahead of their relationship. Joey and Lucy are high-school sweethearts who mostly just cheat on each other. Shane is still smarting from his divorce, and hoping 20-year-old Trudy will help ease the pain. And Jason and Cynthia have been so traumatized by their inability to conceive, they're contemplating divorce. As a last shot, Jason and Cynthia decide to go to a weeklong sun-and-therapy retreat, and talk the others into joining them (playing down the couples counseling and so forth). As you would expect, wacky hijinks ensue.


Probably the only thing that this movie has going for it is the cast, who all mostly seem to be having a ball while on this island. Not so surprising, given how they have worked together in several previous movies and are best buddies in real life, Vince Vaughn (Dave) and Jon Favreau (Joey) are the best of the lot. For me, Vaughn’s motor-mouth shtick just doesn’t get old, providing some great one-liners in otherwise dull scenes, and Favreau is always fun to watch when he gets smug. Faizon Love (Shane) was also a nice addition, especially after just seeing him in Made which coincidently also starred Vaughn and Favreau. Jason Bateman (Jason), Jean Reno (Marcel), and many others round out the male side of the cast. On the female end, Malin Ackerman (Ronnie), Kristen Davis (Lucy), and Kristin Bell (Cynthia) are the frontrunners. Ackerman is much better here than in her stiff role in Watchmen, coming off as more natural and relaxed than before. But I expected a little more Davis and Bell, who are merely decent, if unremarkable. Their past experience in comedy (Sex and the City for Davis and Forgetting Sarah Marshall for Bell) should’ve provided more than enough practice for these ladies.

Joining our high-profile cast on their vacation err…filming is Peter Billingsley, who serves as the director. And no, you are not mistaken; this is the very same Peter Billingsley who achieved his fifteen minutes of fame as Ralphie from A Christmas Story. Well, I guess Billingsley wasn’t interested in the directing process of Christmas director Bob Clark some 25 years ago, because his work on Couples is quite lifeless to say the least. There is no energy, no drive; it is a dull affair punctuated by occasionally erratic editing and beautiful island photography. Point, shoot, and leave the actors be is Billingsley’s order of business. Only a scene involving a Guitar Hero faceoff shows much effort to liven things up, but it’s a wasted effort primarily because the scene really isn’t that funny anyway.


And there in lies the problem with Couples Retreat; it just isn’t really funny. Sure there are a decent amount of good lines to be had, thanks to Vaughn, but when comes down to the meat and potatoes, well, there isn’t much there. I found myself half-chuckling much more frequently than bowling out with heavy belly laughs. Besides, many of those good moments were already in the trailers, so consider yourself warned. Also, considering that Vaughn co-wrote the script, it’s not surprising that he gets the movies best moments. But where the movie really falters is in its attempts to be a dramatic investigation of the inner workings of relationships. The movies conclusions on the subject are limited and create a jarring effect when placed within the context of an otherwise silly and broad tone. These scenes feel like a half-hearted effort to add some meaning to the story, but I think it would have been of greater benefit to focus on sharpening the comedy, which should be the main focus.

While probably not deserving of the ruthless drubbing that it received upon its release, Couples Retreat nevertheless feels like a self-imposed vanity project for everyone involved. It is just too bad that aside from some occasionally funny parts, we can’t share the same amount of fun that the cast no doubt had behind the scenes.


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