Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Retreat Hell. A Review of Couples Retreat




COUPLES RETREAT

I don't believe in "working vacations". A holiday is when you go somewhere outside your hometown and enjoy the sites without thinking about your life back home. Couples Retreat, however, can be called a "working vacation", because the cast claimed to be working on a movie on Bora Bora, but they really were just enjoying the pleasures of a tropical hideaway while the rest of us sat through their idea of entertainment.

We have four couples (and I confess to at times not being able to remember who was who in all this). There is Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman), suburban couple with two kids and a house they're remodeling. Next is Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis), who have a teenage daughter conceived when she was a cheerleader and he a football star in high school. After that, Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell), an overly efficient couple who have been trying for eight years to conceive. Finally, we have Shane and Trudy (Faison Love and Kali Hawk), a recent divorcee and his much younger girlfriend.

Jason & Cynthia announce to their friends that they will divorce (it's hinted that Joey & Lucy will separate as soon as their daughter leaves for college, but that's never spelled out) because of their failure to conceive, but that they will give it one last chance. This chance will come in the form of a resort called Eden, where couples can get therapy and also enjoy the pleasures of island life. Of course, the cost is prohibitive, except for the Pelican Package, which will knock down the price if three other couples come with them...Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

We have them listening to the vaguely New-Age thoughts of Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno), enduring the Tantric yoga instructor Salvadore (Carlos Ponce), or trying to resist the temptations of the nearby island, Eden East (exclusively for singles).


Couples Retreat could have been a good film, even a really funny and insightful one, but how writers Vaughn & Favreau (along with Dana Fox) went about it was all wrong. Though I'm loathed to offer advice to the guys who brought us the brilliant Swingers, it's obvious that they decided that audiences needed a formulaic approach and predictable situations instead of putting in people we could relate to.

As I kept watching, I kept thinking we didn't need to go through all these machinations to get our four couples to Eden. Instead, we could have had an introduction of these four groups in their various situations with their holiday already planned. (Side note: I could not for one moment believe that people could take time off from work for a vacation with one week's notice--basing it on my experience of when I had to plan my vacation at least three months ahead, I couldn't suspend my disbelief that much). In short, the whole premise just doesn't work on how to get them to Eden.

In terms of performances, no one in the cast stretched as an actor, thanks to director Peter Billingsley (yes, Ralphie from A Christmas Story). Vince Vaughn brought his usual Vince Vaughn persona--a fast-talking wiseguy, but it wasn't much of a stretch from some of his other (far better) comedies. Favreau, I figured, must have thought it funny to have us see his erection in full force after getting turned on by his masseuse or getting interrupted before he begins to masturbate, but his Favreau persona (a grumpy, short-tempered man) does not make it funny.

The women were close to all being a bit shrewish, but the worst performance was Hawk's Trudy. It was bad enough she was unfunny, but she was annoying and a crass stereotype of the dumb black woman interested only in sex and not knowing the difference between "was" and "were". Bateman did have the consolation of playing a character who shared his name, but the Jason in the movie was off-putting and generally unpleasant to be around.

Truth be told, every couple was unpleasant to be around. It probably was clear to us (though not the four couples) that each of them were headed for divorce or at least estrangement. If I didn't want to spend time with any of the couples themselves, why would I want to spend time with all four of them? Here is where Couples Retreat could have been good: each of them had problems, and the therapy sessions were good and close to realistic. It was in all the superfluous material that sank the film.

The wacky New Age guru (Reno, unfortunately, did not add anything to the plot except a chance to be in yet another horrible American film), the swim with the sharks (a long scene that was still being played on near the end), the battle of the Guitar Hero between Dave and Peter Serafinowicz's Sctanley (pronounced Stanley but as he points out, 'spelled with a c' and who sounds like a young Terrance Stamp).

Side note: did Vaugh, Favreau, and Fox really think adding a 'c' to 'Stanley' was comedy gold? Really?

None of that moved the plot forward or stood out as amusing. It just sat there, making the film longer and longer.


The highlight, I've been led to believe, is the Tantric yoga session with the hunky Salvatore. From his entrance in the film (a slow-motion rise from the ocean) to his utter cluelessness as to how he made the men uncomfortable (myself included) by how he physically handled each person to how he spoke with a cheerful, oblivious demeanor was all clich├ęd and lazy writing and acting.

Granted, Ponce's 37-year-old body is in excellent shape, and I congratulate him for that. I don't congratulating for being yet another stereotype and being in a fill drowning in them (no pun intended).

Now that I mention age, I have this beef with Couples Retreat. Part of the 'humor' is the fact that Shane (who is 40) is dating a girl half his age, but nothing is made of the fact that Jason and Cynthia also have a large age gap. Bateman was 40 when he made Couples Retreat, while Bell was 29--that's 11 years between them. That means that he would have been 32 and she 21 when they married, yet no one mentions the obvious age difference between them. It doesn't look as creepy as it could have, but it doesn't look convincing that they could really be a couple.

Finally, what I never understood was when the group, in an effort to get Trudy back from Temptation Island...I mean Eden East so as to not be removed from the island (though I confess to wondering if the eight of them were the only guests in the West) it looked like every couple's issues were resolved while on Eden East as opposed to the couple's West. Wouldn't it have been simpler to have sent everyone to "Hump Island" (what the group called it, that being the only time I laughed) instead of wasting their time on Eden West when they could never do anything but whine about the sessions or each other (though granted, that they find the solutions to all their problems in one night is hard to believe)?

If only the writers had focused more on the characters than in putting them in "zany" or "wacky" situations, Couples Retreat could have been both funny and heartwarming. Instead, it was decided to go for the simple laugh, but there was no payoff.

I kept wondering two things about Lucy & Joey's daughter. A.) Even if she is eighteen, was it good to leave her alone since they never mentioned her after they got to the island except to explain how she was conceived? and B.) How did she get admitted to Stanford when she dresses like a hooker? Smart girls don't usually dress like streetwalkers, but I digress.

I'm happy the cast and crew of Couples Retreat had fun on their "working vacation". Bora Bora is a beautiful place, one where I'd like to go, a true island paradise. Couples Retreat is just a Bore, a Bore.

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