Universal // 2009 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 9th, 2010
It may be paradise, but it's no vacation.
Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau head off to Bora Bora for the directorial debut of The Man Who Was Ralphie, Peter Billingsley. Maybe they should have stayed home.
High-strung power couple Jason (Jason Bateman, Smokin' Aces) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell, Pulse), have announced to their friends that they'll be divorcing, if they don't get some much-needed couples' therapy. And wouldn't you know it...they get a great group rate at a scenic and therapeutic resorts/spa, if they bring some friends along. Their friends? Dave (Vince Vaughn, Dodgeball) and Ronnie (Malin Ackerman, Watchmen) are busy parents of two young boys who've begun taking each other for granted. Joey (Jon Favreau, Iron Man) and Lucy (Kristen Davis, Sex and the City) have already agreed to separate and taken to stepping out on one another. Shane (Faizon Love, Torque) is recently divorced, going through a midlife crisis, and brings his much younger girlfriend Trudy (Kali Hawk, Issues) along. So, the four sets of friends head off for what promises to be a tropical island getaway, but ends up being an intense, week-long bout of couples therapy complete with dangerous sharks (not really) and even more dangerous speedo-clad yoga instructors. Will these relationships survive?
The 2009 comedy Couples Retreat is the kind of movie that was probably a whole lot of fun to make, but that fun doesn't necessarily translate to the screen. It's got a whole lot going for it -- a solid comedic premise, an impressive cast, gorgeous tropical photography -- but amounts to little more than a misfire. This thrown-together sitcom of a movie feels like an excuse for its stars to take a gorgeous tropical vacation, rather than create any kind of lasting entertainment.
On paper, it sounds like a winning comedy: four couples, each with their own set of issues and complications, head off for a beautiful island vacation only to find they'll be forced to work out their problems. Throw in talented comedic actors like Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, and (sometimes) Vince Vaughn and beautiful actresses like Kristen Davis, Malin Ackerman, and Kristen Bell (in swimwear, no less) and you should have a movie that's at the very least incredibly watchable. Unfortunately, the screenplay -- co-written by Vaughn and Favreau, along with Dana Fox -- does no one any favors, settling for cheap, easy conflicts between the couples and fails to exploit any of the movie's comic possibilities. We get Faizon Love gasping for breath as he rides a bike, Vince Vaughn overreacting to a non-shark attack, and Favreau's creepy-guy attempts to get laid. One interminable sequence in which Vaughn plays Guitar Hero isn't funny, compelling, or visually interesting; instead, feeling only like it was included because there was a lot of Guitar Hero played on the set. The scene speaks to the larger problem with Couples Retreat: everything feels more like an experience meant to be enjoyed by the people involved than for the audience.
I suppose the big draw of Couples Retreat is the presence of Vince Vaughn, who still has enormous popularity among both men and women, despite the fact he's been coasting on the same shtick for years -- Fred Claus, Four Christmases, and now Couples Retreat. Though he and Ackerman (the most likable she's ever been) are the most accessible characters in the film, Vaughn's fast-talking, quick-burn style becomes tiresome pretty quickly. He should be relatable, but instead comes off as off-putting and obnoxious. It's really only Jon Favreau who scores any laughs, even with lines that aren't that funny, reminding us what Couples Retreat might have been with better-drawn characters and performances of his caliber. Even moments which might have worked are torpedoed by Billingsley's clumsy direction; his pacing is all wrong, the film is almost a half hour too long, and he never quite works out how to stage a scene for maximum impact, be it comedic or emotional. As a result, Couples Retreat flounders.
The best thing Universal's Blu-ray of Couples Retreat has going for it is a great-looking 1080p transfer. Bright and colorful, it boasts some nice detail and often looks, in the words of Favreau's character, "like a screensaver." The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is fine, but not as stunning as the video, mostly because it's not called on to do much. This isn't a sonically dense film, primarily dependent on uninspired dialogue handled by the front channels. The music occasionally gives it some punch, but the track is just competent.
The supplemental features won't do much to rescue the movie's reputation, though it was a big success, so maybe I'm the only one who thinks it needs rescuing. The most significant extra is a U-Control picture-in-picture video commentary featuring Vaughn and Billingsley. This subdued track benefits nothing from the "video" aspect; it's just two guys sitting behind a table, looking at a monitor, and discussing specific aspects of the production. Vaughn does a little bit of teasing, but there's not a whole lot of humor and neither of them have a realistic sense of how the film turned out.
There's a collection of deleted and extended scenes that add very little and were wisely cut, though a few were featured prominently in the film's original advertising. An alternate ending -- featuring the eight friends returning to a snowy Chicago -- plays better than the ending that was used, though Vaughn does make a compelling argument as to why it was reshot during the optional commentary. Also included is a really lame gag reel (standard cast-blows-takes-by-giggling) and a handful of featurettes: "Therapy's Greatest Hits," a compilation of moments from the film; "Paradise Found," a piece about shooting on location in Bora Bora and "Behind the Yoga," which covers the movie's unfunny yoga sequences. A second disc contains a digital copy of the film, so you can take Couples Retreat with you wherever you go.
If you want to see a movie that's truly funny, has something to say about relationships, features beautiful island locations, and stars Kristen Bell, watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This one's a big letdown.
Couples Retreat is solely for Vince Vaughn completists. You know who you are.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Video Commentary
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Digital Copy
* Official Site