starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love
screenplay by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn & Dana Fox
directed by Peter Billingsley
by Ian Pugh Peter Serafinowicz--a creepy, irony-free Christopher Walken prototype who appears to have strolled in from a different movie entirely--keeps Couples Retreat out of the running for Worst Film of 2009. What is it with these romantic comedies, exactly, that the characters left in orbit are always crafted with more care and love than the ones with whom you're forced to spend the most time? I look at this latest trainwreck of clichés and I can only see it as director and former child star Peter Billingsley's payback for being trapped in the amber of A Christmas Story and Hershey's Syrup commercials in the decades since. A few ill-placed dick jokes are there to force the medicine down--call it the equivalent of Bob Saget's stand-up career. To be fair, early trailers featuring adulterous parking-lot trysts seem to indicate that test screenings may have taken some substantial bite out of the filmmakers' original intentions. But even with that in mind, this is still the kind of film that saves a few moments for the lead character's precocious toddler (Colin Baiocchi), who, like an ersatz Olsen twin, regurgitates whatever elementary dialogue is fed to him. This is also the kind of film that saves the same little urchin for the last image before the credits, as he takes a shit in a display toilet. Coo and scream with laughter where appropriate--and realize that whatever the movie's original intentions might have been, it's doubtful that a few backseat hump sessions would have tied them together.
On the verge of divorce, Cynthia (Kristen Bell) and fussbudget Jason (Jason Bateman, so perfunctorily cast they didn't bother giving his character a different first name) beg fellow couples--family-oriented Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman); bickering Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis); and middle-aged divorcee Shane (Faizon Love) and his twenty-year-old paramour Trudy (Kali Hawk)--to come along with them to a "relationship-building" island resort. The place is evidently run by a bunch of gay Europeans who practice Eastern philosophy and are therefore the antithesis of what Vince Vaughn's entitled asshole represents in American cinema, which I think still means something in this day and age. Honestly, it's difficult to tell anymore--you stop giving your full attention to Vaughn the moment you stop batting an eye over his "dame/broad" patois, and I tuned him out for good after the one-two holiday punch of Fred Claus and Four Christmases. I guess you could say he's trying something new here, but now that the Judd Apatow school of cinema is (hopefully and/or thankfully) on its last legs, guys like Vaughn, who were left in the dust at the hands of that phenomenon, have caught up with it a wee bit too late.
Couples Retreat isn't about love or romance, since there isn't a lick of genuine chemistry to be found. This is a love letter to the archaic definitions of marriage, distasteful because there's never any question that everyone will end up with their betrothed with an absolute minimum of fuss. (Say, why did they cut those "affair" scenes again?) Joey's reconciliation with Lucy is actually lazy to the point of offensiveness, and hey--spoilers if you haven't caught on by now--Shane's ex-wife even shows up for the party! How convenient is that? In other words, Couples Retreat is just another hyper-conservative dick flick (all told, Walter Chaw already wrote the pre-emptive strike against this movie with his review of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) that instead features thirtysomethings in Nehru jackets who flounder at the suggestion of their own nudity and wait accordingly for the "LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE" sign to stop blinking. Yoga classes, professional massages, and general self-discovery...dismissed, to a one, as fruity little exercises that invariably involve grinding your junk where it doesn't belong. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this puerile game is that Favreau knows he makes an art form out of acting like a d-bag--besting frequent collaborator Vaughn in that regard--and yet, at the mercy of his own script, the mere implication of a penis is enough to deflate any potential hilarity he has to offer. Again, there's only so much you can forgive a victim of reshoots. The real laugh is that the film's ostensible moral is to act your age while virtually every joke is stolen from a genre intended for stars and audiences ten-plus years younger than anyone involved, meaning all the sexual insecurity and juvenilia is infected with considerably more than the usual touch of the pathetic. Originally published: October 9, 2009.