Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Predictable, Low Character Development, And Not Funny Sink Couples Retreat.

The Good: Shot well-enough
The Bad: Predictable plot and character arcs, Largely not funny, Mediocre acting
The Basics: Disappointing and mediocre in every way but the scenery, Couples Retreat is a dismal option for moviegoers.

The more I experience in films and television, the more disappointed I tend to become with new works that trade on celebrity. Massive casts of a-list actors suddenly begin to look incestuous to me and I get a queasy feeling whenever I see the advertising for such projects even. Indeed, I had lukewarm feelings about Couples Retreat when I saw the first preview, but when I watched the third season of Sex & The City on DVD a few weeks back, my stomach sank when I considered the promotional standee for Couples Retreat while awaiting another movie. The reason was simple. I could see that the project was virtually a "Best Of ‘I Worked With Vince Vaughn Before'" work. It seemed like everyone in the movie had worked with Vaughn before, save Malin Ackerman who wowed me earlier last year in Watchmen. Kristen Davis, for example, was on Sex & The City and Vaughn has a guest starring appearance in the third season. Even if everyone had not worked with Vaughn already, I could see the connections and the most I came away was two degrees of separation for the casting. My point in all this is that it set Couples Retreat up to be a movie trading on the names and not using the actors in any ways that pushed their comfort zones or made the audience any more interested or engaged in their characters.

Sadly, that is exactly what happens with the largely un-funny, dismally predictable Couples Retreat. The film, which is a weird combination of obvious predictability - like a non-holiday remake of Four Christmases which Vaughn and co-writer Jon Favreau were both in - and flatly presented. The movie is a lot of setup, with little bang for the audience, mostly because once the movie takes the characters to Bora Bora, the scenery becomes more compelling than any of the characters. And the humor . . . well, it is predictable, not terribly witty and all of the best jokes appeared in the film's trailers.

Jason and Cynthia are having an impossible time conceiving a child, which is important to their marriage. Jason's friend Dave is also having some issues with his wife, Ronnie and their other friends, Shane and Joey seem mostly indifferent until they realize that a getaway to Bora Bora might be fun for all. Unfortunately, after arriving at the island paradise, they learn from Marcel - the resort's owner - that the couples activities are not optional. Rather than leave the island, the couples consent to the relationship-building exercises that Marcel has for them. Soon, though, the couples are discovering how mismatched they are for one another.

While Jason and Cynthia explore why they want to have children, Dave and Ronnie discover they do not truly trust one another. As well, Joey and Lucy become more and more tempted by the few others on the island and Shane's untraditional relationship with the much younger Trudy is more or less exposed for what it actually is about (sex). As Dave and Ronnie learn to trust one another, the others test their own relationships and try to figure out what is truly important to them.

Here is where the film falls apart for anyone who has seen more than, let's say, two romantic comedies. Couples Retreat is both terribly predictable and so light on character that it is hard to see how this was considered original enough to be made. The humor tends to come in uncomfortable bits where characters are put in situations where they have to trust one another and their expectations are defied. Sadly, the audiences expectations are not defied. So, for example, after Shane's initial characterization as a man who is constantly getting it on with Trudy, his reluctance to disrobe does not seem like a lack of trust, but exactly what it is; him not wearing anything under his pants. All of the characters are put in positions where they learn something vital about their relationship with their partner.

The problem is, the characters are the only one's not seeing what is pretty obvious to the viewers from the outset. From the beginning, Vaughn, Favreau, and Dana Fox's script is supposed to bias us against Shane and Trudy simply because of the age difference (and the creepy way the younger woman refers to her older beau). Similarly, we see that Joey and Cynthia are mean to one another and are looking for fulfillment elsewhere. And the reasons they are doing this become less important and more contrived; the viewer is never emotionally invested in any of their relationships. These are all Hollywood good-looking people (yes, even the larger Faizon Love, as he fills a niche of the successful, if overweight man who may get the thinner, younger chick) whining about relationships or looking for ways out of their relationships and the viewer doesn't care who ends up together, who falls apart or why.

In fact, the only real bright spot comedically is Jean Reno as Marcel. Reno plays an excellent straightman and in Couples Retreat, he is a master of the deadpan and he has a quirkiness to him that he makes work beautifully. Reno, who has dramatic gravitas to him in virtually everything he does, arrives in Couples Retreat as a breath of fresh air. Even without any truly great lines and moments he seems stiff, he still steals every scene he is in.

Unfortunately, he is the only one to even come close to truly shining. The other performers are used in ways that are familiar. Kristen Bell plays a generally nice, but frustrated young woman, much like she has in other works, including Heroes. Even more insulting is how Jason Bateman is used. Bateman, playing Jason (I love it when actors end up playing characters with their same name) is a young family man frustrated because of his inability to conceive with his wife. If that sounds familiar, it is essentially his characterization from Juno and what is worse, he is put into the same niche that he usually is. His deliveries are dry and somewhat awkward and he is simply not given more to work with than we've already seen him do before. This is, alas, how much of the film goes. Couples Retreat is utterly unsurprising because the players are familiar and used in familiar ways.

Similarly, Vince Vaughn seems to be quite happy to write his own part for his own sense of familiar schtick. Vaughn yet again plays an understated guy who looks like he hasn't slept in about a decade. Vaughn's part feels as familiar to viewers as Jason Bateman's deliveries and it does not take long before the viewer is bored by the way he - and the others - are presenting themselves. Add to that, he and costar Malin Ackerman have less than zero on-screen chemistry. This is the death knell to the film because it makes it impossible for viewers to care about the state of their character's relationships.

On DVD, Couples Retreat is presented with an alternate ending, as well as several deleted and extended scenes. This, combined with the gag reel and featurettes on the filming of the movie, do nothing to make the source material any better. The commentary track with Vince Vaughn is not terribly insightful or entertaining, making it fairly easy to pass by as well.

Couples Retreat is just another underwhelming romantic comedy and one might suspect that it did well its opening weekend because it offered an option for women in a weekend amid the opening of horror movies. Couples Retreat has bland characters, good scenery and few laughs. Women deserve better than that. Come to think of it, anyone shelling out money for a movie these days deserved more than that.

For other romantic comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Going The Distance
Valentine's Day
Excess Baggage


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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