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Case Number 18322

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Couples Retreat

Universal // 2009 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // February 15th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Daniel Kelly has booked a vacation at a couples retreat. Now he just has to find someone to go with.

Editor's Note

Our review of Couples Retreat (Blu-Ray), published February 9th, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

It may be paradise…but it's no vacation.

Opening Statement

The last few years have been pretty rough on Vince Vaughn, a man once considered by some to be the hippest comic actor on the planet. How times change. After starring in two recent festive clunkers (Fred Claus and Four Christmases), Vaughn has all but relegated himself out of the comedy A-list with Couples Retreat. You see, at least with Fred Claus and Four Christmases, Vaughn was only a thespian pawn and not directly responsible for the awfulness. However in Couples Retreat he's also taken on the position of writer and thus only has himself to blame for the shambolic final product.

Facts of the Case

Jason (Jason Bateman, Juno) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) have reached a nadir in their relationship and are seriously considering a divorce. The only solution they see is therapeutic and the best place to get such treatment is a tropical resort dedicated to saving marriages called Eden. Eden would be an overly expensive vacation on their own, so the pair track down a group rate and get their buddies to tag along. The friends in question are Dave (Vince Vaughn,Swingers) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman, Watchmen), a couple who are seemingly happy on the outside but who might be suffering from a subconscious strain; Joey (Jon Favreau, G-Force) and Lucy (Kristen Davis, Sex and the City), a pair who have been out of love with each other since Prom; and finally Shane (Faizon Love, Just My Luck), a divorced man now dating a girl just out of her teens. As the group partakes in the resort's program, they uncover the problems in their relationships, but for some these may be too serious to resolve.

The Evidence

Couples Retreat is an obnoxious and painfully generic studio comedy. It assembled a few familiar faces, a promising but undercooked concept, and a PG-13 rating in its search for Box-Office gold. In fairness, the film was a success, grossing around $168 million worldwide, but I don't expect those who paid to see it were satisfied. The film features some glorious locales but its characters and jokes are insultingly plain and predictable; there is little spice or flavor to be found in Couples Retreat. It really is shocking to think that 15 years, ago Vaughn was seen as a refreshing and zingy addition to the cinematic world, because now he's as vanilla and formulaic as any performer out there. He's retained his skill with comic timing but everything else in his arsenal seems incredibly ordinary and stale.

The casting is a case of capable actors gunning for paycheques. In their own right each of these people has built a career around comedy, and yet the performances are lacking in laughs or energy. The early parts of the film allow Vaughn and Bateman a few chances to exercise amusing lines and gags but as soon as the story goes tropical the scripting and acting completely dry up. Everyone coasts and they are totally upstaged by the beautiful landscapes and fauna; Kristin Davis in particular does rigorously horrendous work and looks unbothered concerning the standard of her acting. Vaughn relaxes to the point of laziness in his role whilst Kristen Bell and Jason Bateman try hard but can't help but fumble their one-note characters. Faizon Love and Jon Favreau are equally as uninspiring as Vaughn, and playing Love's young love interest, Kali Hawk (Answers to Nothing) is relentlessly annoying. None of the actors exhibits chemistry together but perhaps that was the point. This is, after all, a therapy movie in the long run. Adding to the stench of familiarity is a goofy Jean Reno (Leon) performance that blows slightly less than the work done by the main protagonists.

The scenery is delightful but the story is a desperate excuse for a narrative. The central concept isn't without possibilities but the writers have simply turned it into the drabbest and least inspired rom-com they could; as if the backdrop might excuse the ugly scripting. The relationship arcs are easy to guess, and whilst the picture looks to make a brave emotional decision at the end, it backs out like a whimpering coward. The directorial work from Peter Billingsley is competent enough, he does the best with what he's got and that admittedly isn't much. The real criminals are the writers and actors who pour next to nothing into their craft and produce a heinous excuse for big screen shenanigans.

The jokes are poor and revolve around the usual outlets. Urination, masturbation, suggestive thrusting, and the hilarity of people with no pants on are exploited admirably in Couples Retreat. These are the well worn and unsophisticated paths the movie wants to tread and it doesn't even do the dirty stuff properly, the PG-13 rating locking out the opportunity for any real gross-out fun. I laughed maybe two or three times during the entire running, all of which came in the first 20 minutes. It's possibly this early peaking that adds to the problems I had with Couples Retreat. The opening's decent enough but the rest of the picture is a treacherous bore. The last gag set in a Home Depot practically sums up the whole film. It's pathetically immature and broad, and for all concerned a legitimate cause for embarrassment.

The DVD comes packaged in a nice shiny slipcase and the beautiful setting looks sharp even on standard-def. The bonus content is mostly insubstantial nothingness but the quantity is defensible enough. A series of featurettes mostly occupied with shooting in Bora Bora aren't very interesting though a genuinely funny gag reel compensates for the lack of conviction put into the making of material. Some deleted and extended scenes are also available but amount to little of value whilst a celebratory commentary from Vaughn and Billingsley makes me doubt the comedic awareness of either man. Still for fans of the film this is a better haul than the movie deserves, so I doubt they'll mind that it's not particularly worthwhile stuff.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The film really does look frickin gorgeous and there are two amusing cameos from Ken Jeong (Knocked-Up) and John Michael Higgins (Best in Show) as therapists on the Island. It's not laugh out loud material, but the pair certainly elicits a few smiles amongst the groans and grimaces.

Closing Statement

It's a pity the film sucks quite so hard, but when so little effort was obviously made, I can't help but conclude that's what the participants deserve. I will exclude director Billingsley from the charges as he shoots the locations well, and when a rare good joke rolls around he capitalizes on it as best he can. Nobody else however has a reasonable excuse and the film as a consequence is fairly atrocious.

The Verdict

The court advises the public to retreat from Couples Retreat. It's guilty and potentially hazardous to be around.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 82
Acting: 65
Story: 60
Judgment: 61

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted/Extended Scenes
• Featurettes
• Gag Reel


• IMDb
• Box Office Mojo: Couples Retreat

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