A film review by Craig J. Koban October 15, 2009
2009, R, 110 mins.
2009, R, 110 mins.
Dave: Vince Vaughn / Jason: Jason Bateman / Joey: Jon
Favreau / Shane: Faizon Love / Ronnie: Malin Akerman / Cynthia:
Kristen Bell / Lucy: Kristin Davis
marks the fifth on-screen collaboration between Vince Vaughn and Jon
Favreau, who began their careers as an unforgettable comedic dynamic duo
in the very funny – and very, very money – SWINGERS
from 1996. The real life
bromates played fictitious bromates in that Doug Liman directed
Gen-X comedy about twenty-something comrades that tried to eek out an
existence in L.A.. One thing
that truly stood out about SWINGERS – which represented one of the
earliest Favreau written scripts – was just how well it had its finger
on the pulse of these snappy, verbose, irreverent, vulnerable and sincere
hipsters: SWINGERS knew the fragility of the guarded male bravado better than
most comedies, which allowed its laughs to simmer with a truthfulness and
That film launched their respective film careers and led to future collaborative efforts, like in 2001’s dreadfully undervalued MADE (written and directed by Favreau); 2006’s THE BREAK UP, last year’s intermittently funny, but forgettable FOUR CHRISTMASES and (to a much lesser extent) the Vaughn-hosted documentary, WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW. Very few of their on-screen collaborations have had the same sort of acerbic bite and worthy repeat viewing clout as SWINGERS (although MADE deserves worthy mention) and it certainly appears that the two BBFs have definitely aimed for more mainstream comedic fare since the mid-90’s.
– written and produced by the pair – certainly elicited much
anticipation from me before its release. Regrettably, the resulting film
– while still maintaining a very high laugh quotient throughout its
running time – nonetheless feels like a Vaughn/Favreau project that is
disingenuous to the rancorous and spontaneous comic instincts of the pair and
instead seems to flounder in mundane, banal, and sorrowfully contrived rom-com
clichés and predicaments. This
is a film with grade-A level comedic pedigree in its two stars that have
effortless chemistry together and certainly are smart enough to made even
meager films uproarious, but only so much of them goes a long way here.
They are substantially smarter and funnier than the
script they have written.
The setup of
COUPLES RETREAT is decent: We are introduced to Dave (Vaughn) and his wife
Ronnie (the ravishing Malin Akerman), who seem to have a perfect and
picturesque marriage (granted, Akerman’s cover girl flawlessness seems
far too luminous to be taken seriously as a semi-beleaguered homemaker
mother of two). We meet another couple comprised of Joey (Favreau) and
Lucy (a really bland Kristen Davis) that seem like an icy foil to Dave and
Ronnie: they married out of wed lock and seem to be looking for any simple
reason in the world to get a quick divorce. From here we meet Shane (a very funny Faizon Love) that has
just gone through a painful divorce and – after being left in financial
and emotional ruin – has shacked up with a pea-brained hotty half of
his age in Trudy (Tasha Smith). Finally,
to round off this couples quartet are Jason (Jason Batemen, always
terrifically dry and understated) and Cynthia (Kristin Bell, always
adorable) that are on the verge of ending their lifelong commitment of happiness together
once and for all. Perhaps part of their problem is that they are remorselessly
uptight yuppies that spend an agonizing amount of time analyzing their
lives. Just how bad are they?
Well, they show their friends a power point presentation chronicling
their troubled marriage complete with every minute detail of where they
have gone wrong over the last several years.
These people take anal to a whole agonizing new level.
However, Jason and
Cynthia have a master plan to save their marriage: They want to go to the
ultimate couples resort enticingly named Eden, which is a beautiful
vacation destination in Bora Bora that promises seven days of great food,
great beach related activities, and therapy.
Now, the only way they can afford to attend is if they convince all
of their other coupled friends to also attend (they will receive a massive
group discount). Unfortunately, everyone seems lukewarm at first, but after
Jason convinces everyone that they therapy angle will be his and
Cynthia’s problem alone and that everyone else can enjoy the “fun stuff,”
all of the other couples begrudgingly agree to partake.
When the couples
do arrive at Eden they are instantly taken away with the luscious natural
sheen of their surroundings. However,
things begin to slowly drift south from hereon in.
Firstly, they all must reside at Eden West, which is where troubled
couples go for a relationship tune up (yes, there is an Eden East, which
is a more enigmatically hedonistic pleasure paradise where singles go
to…well…drink and get laid…and often).
Even worse is the fact that their host for the seven days, Cstanley
(played with delicious pontificating snobbery Peter Serafinowicz) first
explains that his name is spelled with a “C” and then explains to all
couples that they must stick to a strict, early morning schedule of
couples skill training. Their daily activities are overseen by the resort’s chief
manager and "couples whisperer," Marcel (Jean Reno, not nearly as funny as
he should have been here), who seems annoyingly New Agey to all of the
couples. There is also a ridiculously sculpted yoga instructor named Salvador (Carlos
Ponce), who seems to take great relish in putting all of the wives –
while right in front of their incredulous and hot headed husbands – in a
series of nonsensically eroticized yoga poses, often involving him riding
them in ways that strongly echo the Kama Sutra.
Ponce gets an incredible amount of comic mileage out of his semi-venomous enunciation
of the word "yeeeeessssss" as he's all but dry humping the women he
Ponce gets an incredible amount of comic mileage out of his semi-venomous enunciation of the word "yeeeeessssss" as he's all but dry humping the women he "trains."
does generate some noteworthy merriment and large laughs throughout:
I especially howled over when Favreau attempts to explain to a room
service waiter why he was about to pleasure himself to a Eden East
brochure (he also generates huge laughs as he tries to explain his way out
of his erection to his very sexy massage therapist).
There is also a great bit with Vaughn – an absolute master of
superbly timed spontaneous verbal riffs – where he hilariously turns his
very mild encounter with a baby shark into a hellish ordeal of pain and
emotional suffering in ways only he can.
Then there is one couples therapist – played in a wickedly
droll performance by the smugly calm spoken John Michael Higgins – that
uses a therapy style that makes happy couples begin to radically
reconsider their happiness. I
also loved a very brief, but sidesplitting, scene involving Vaughn and
Favreau in a “snow sauna” where Favreau finds a rather homoerotic
manner of explaining the nature of infidelity (watch how Batemen enters
the scene for a textbook example of how to stage a perfectly timed comic
This sequence highlights one of the pleasures of COUPLES RESORT:
Vaughn and Favreau have such an unforced and natural comic chemistry with
one another that you almost wish the entire film squarely centered
exclusively on them. Without
question, the main stars – along with Batemen, one of the finest
understated comic actors around – own every moment of COUPLES RETREAT.
as much as I laughed in COUPLES RETREAT I undesirably was left
nagging over the film’s weaknesses, the first of which would obviously
be its self-indulgent running time (which, at nearly two hours, is about
20 minutes or so too long for its own good).
exasperating the unnerving running time is the fact that the film
gets inordinately formulaic and predictable as it progresses: The script
has zero suspense because we all know precisely where it is heading.
We know that the well-off couples will begin to doubt their
marriage while staying at Eden West. We know that we will get many
scenes where all of the couples – through one artificial manner or
another – seem like they are about the split forever and then have the
obligatory climatic event where they learn from and understand their
respective differences and reach a moment where they can be “true” to
each other at last. Also, we
know – I mean, how can we not? – that all of the trials and
tribulations of these couples – affected directly and indirectly by the
resort – will all reach a tidy and phony conclusion where they all
confront their sense of faithfulness to each other while at Eden East,
which throws all sorts of alluring and forbidden obstacles in their
Even worse is the
fact that COUPLES RETREAT lacks a serious amount of comic nerve and
cojones the size of those on that preposterous Yoga instructor.
This is another lame example of a PG-13 film that slavishly feels
neutered down from its instincts to be a much more satisfyingly bawdy R. The jokes
at pratfalls in the film – even when many of them work – feel too
inhibited for their own good. The
simple answer is that COUPLES RETREAT wants to take the safer route of a
more appealing and more audience centric PG-13 rating, where selling
tickets means more than creative integrity.
After seeing the phenomenal success of such crude R-rated comedies
like THE HANGOVER from earlier this
year, I still cannot understand why studios feel petrified of making adult
comedies for adults, especially when they seem so profitable
Perhaps I am being
too harsh, but I also would have been a bit more forgiving if
Vaughn and Favreau did not pen and produce COUPLES RETREAT, but
their inclusion and participation in this creative capacity stymies my
willingness to give the film a modest recommendation.
Yes, they seem to be having a great time here (what actor would not
want to shoot a film for weeks at a tropical paradise with their real life
hetero-lifemates and a cast of gorgeous leading ladies?), not to mention that they also get to be directed by
another real life friend in Peter Billingsley, who is famous for playing
Ralphie in the perennial Christmas classic A CHRISTMAS STORY and whom
would go on to produce films (like many of Favreau’s directorial
efforts, like MADE, ZATHURA, and most prestigious of all, IRON
MAN). No doubt, when
Vaughn and Favreau appear opposite of one another, they’re comic gold
that take mediocre and mundane material to a much higher comic crescendo.
Lamentably, though, they are also too refined, sharp witted, and
damn money to be making disposable fluff like this.