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Couples Retreat

Couples Retreat

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

VINCE Vaughn delights in subverting expectation. With The Break-Up, he flew in the face of expectation by producing a downbeat comedy about a destructive relationship that wasn’t able to save itself.

With Couples Retreat, co-written by Swingers buddy Jon Favreau, he almost repeats the trick by delivering an ensemble ‘comedy’ that actually tackles some very big issues.

As such, it’s not as funny as it should be and much more serious than you’d expect. But unlike The Break-Up, it’s not as successful at straddling both worlds.

Too often, the film wants to have its cake and eat it… expecting us to laugh from embarrassing/cringe-worthy situation comedy one minute, and then contemplating its own life observations the next.

To be fair, Vaughn and Favreau are astute writers and some of what they have to say is relevant and on the money.

But with Couples Retreat they find themselves shackled by the expectations of being part of a big studio blockbuster and, as a result, their biting commentary is eventually rendered toothless by the need to pander to tried and tested Hollywood convention.

The end result is that Couples Retreat often feels as painful as some of the therapy sessions the characters find themselves in, while a shameless piece of product placement leaves a genuinely foul taste in the mouth.

Based on an original idea of Vaughn’s, the comedy follows four Midwestern couples as they embark on a journey to a tropical island resort that’s designed to help one of the couples (Jason Batemen and Kristen Bell) do the work they need to save their marriage.

But while the other three set out to jet ski, spa and enjoy some fun in the sun, they quickly discover that participation in the resort’s couples therapy is not optional.

The remaining three couples are comprised of Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, as happily married parents struggling to find as much time for each other as they’d like; Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, as High School sweethearts with wondering eyes; and a heartbroken divorcee (Faizon Love) and his young girlfriend (Kali Hawk), who look destined for disaster.

Under Peter Billingsley’s pedestrian direction, the film succeeds in establishing a number of promising scenarios that are never fully realised.

Early scenes that establish each characters’ day-to-day routines do make some sharp observations on modern life and trends (witness Favreau’s father’s attempts to get his daughter to dress properly or Bateman’s reliance on statistics as a reason to save his marriage), while the eventual Bora Bora backdrop of the couple’s retreat promises plenty of fun in beautiful locations.

But the potential is only fleetingly realised thereafter. There are funny moments, while Vaughn and Favreau are always worth watching when on form.

But situations become increasingly predicatable, as well as contrived, and the capacity for fun is eventually sucked dry.

Some of the gags, too, are more crass than sophisticated, especially involving Favreau’s repeated attempts to relieve his pent-up sexual frustration.

An extended product placement for Guitar Hero is also shameful, especially given that it represents one of the movie’s big set-pieces. We expected more from Vaughn and Favreau’s generally more independent free spirit.

The last act delivery of multiple happy endings, meanwhile, also feels out of keeping with the general tone of the movie as a whole.

What’s left is an awkward, tonally uneven comedy that’s not big on laughs and even shorter on the reality it initially promises. Hence, a film that was undoubtedly a good time to make, is less of a good time to watch.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 113mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: February 8, 2010