I went into Couples Retreat wanting to enjoy the allure, the fun and the humor advertised in the trailer. What I got was a disappointment which mirrored the on-screen let down that the characters of this film experienced when arriving at Eden Resort. I usually have a pretty good track record when it comes to judging the outcome of a movie based solely on the trailer. If the trailer seems too good to be true, then the film is probably going to be a let down. I thought for sure with the likes of Bateman, Bell, Vaughn & Favreau (also writing) and an appearance from Jean Reno, this movie would be this generation’s Club Paradise (but better). Well, in this case, I guess the ‘trailer industry’ got the better of me on this one as what I got was far different from what I was expecting.
PREMISE: When Cynthia (Kristen Bell) and Jason (Jason Bateman) have decided that their relationship is on it’s last legs, they entice 3 couples/friends to take a trip with them to beautiful Eden Resort in hopes of saving their marriage. As the film plays out, it seems Cynthia and Jason aren’t the only couple whose love life is on the rocks.
HIGHS: While I have come to find Jason Bateman and Vince Vaughn’s type of humor increasingly funny, I enjoyed them in this film as they definitely brought their patented brand of quirky and snide comedy to this film and did so in spades. Not their best performances individually but together they made for a great mix-up of styles. Bateman has more of a reserved, almost British, kind of humor that is more about timing. Vaughn (channeling that great Swingers and Wedding Crashers monologue ad-libbing he is known for) is able to fluctuate from simple and quaint sarcasm to an elevated, over-the-top rant very seamlessly. Again, together they saved this movie from being a total waste, but not by much. Aside from that the best thing the film had going for it were the locale shots as, sadly, nothing else was very impressive.
LOWS: I think that unfortunately the film’s greatest strength is also going to be it’s biggest weakness. Couples Retreat was co-written by Vaughn and Favreau and the idea of that alone should have been comic gold. Yet despite the their efforts, this film played out like a very juvenile and sophomoric effort from those two and was not even close to the level of talent these guys have in them. Maybe it’s like a hockey team – “great on paper but shit on the ice“. After that, unfortunately, this is where (I think) that undo criticism for the movie may fall on the wrong ‘at fault’ party. Peter Billingsley…or “the man who would be Ralphie Parker” directed Couples Retreat and though he didn’t scribe this film’s material he may be in the firing range for the film’s bad press. Kind of like the president, a director is usually the figurehead taking the fall for a film’s misteps…Joel Schumacher anyone? This isn’t Billingsley’s directorial debut but most people might think it is since they haven’t really heard from him since his iconic role in A Christmas Story. To his credit, I believe he did the best he could. This plot wasn’t original in the least and this film, as a whole, suffered from its inability to string the events and elements (that play out better in separate skits) together cohesively and seamlessly. It’s not Billingsley’s fault, and I would like to see any other director to try and make something that is obviously a rom-com and look and feel as if it wasn’t.
The entire middle of the film was probably its second biggest weak point because the film, not really sure where it was going or what it wanted to be, felt very incomplete. Some “counseling” scenes didn’t play out as intended and it felt like there was supposed to more content that wasn’t there (either edited or not fully written in the first place). In addition each counselor’s cameo (like Ken Jeong) just seemed wasted. There were some great lead-ins to the sessions but no resolution and it just got lost. After thinking about it all night, I believe I know why this film didn’t deliver. I suspect that Couples Retreat tried to be something it wasn’t. And that “something”, was a Judd Apatow film…only Retreat delivered a quarter of the humor and half of the heart. This film could have been goofy funny and done fine. It could have been pretty serious and been fine. Trying to meld the two (and have too many, therefore diluted, characters in my opinion) got its message lost and sank the boat with a contrived and almost obligatory Hollywood plot.
RULING: I don’t know if my viewing of this film is what you would call a typical movie going experience but walking in to see Couples Retreat, something just told me it wasn’t going to b a fun night. I paid $19.00 (for just tickets!) to see this movie on a Sunday night at a Regal Theater with my fiance. Hell, for 2 more dollars I could have gotten IMAX tickets, but I digress. Now this Regal wasn’t a total dump mind you but it still felt like we were slumming. We sat in a theater of maybe 8 people in seats that you really didn’t want to look at with the lights on and the sound was much louder than it needed to be. About 10 minutes in, once the plot’s ground work was being laid, things didn’t get any better and I knew this movie wasn’t what I was hoping it would be. Now, I would hate to say that I didn’t like this movie because of the price and venue alone but it was a small factor. I mean, I saw G.I. JOE in the same theater and loved it so the venue wasn’t to blame for my dislikes. The bigger factor here was the meandering plot, the awkward and general disjointed nature of most scenes and an almost formulaic set up resulting in an unbelievably unrealistic and “tied-up” ending. There were some solid laughs but even Bateman and Vaughn’s zingers couldn’t save this from being the same sort of rom-com drivel that you’d find playing all weekend on TBS.
G-S-T Ruling: 2/5
G-S-T Seal of Approval: DENIED