Couples Retreat

Director    Peter Billingsley
Starring    Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Jean Reno
Release    9 OCT (US) 14 OCT (UK)
3 stars


15th October 2009

It's been 13 years since Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn first showed us the "money" in Swingers, and each collaboration in the meantime hasn't quite measured up to that exceptional debut. Can Couples Retreat finally live up to expectations? Unfortunately, no - it's good, but it's not on the money.

Of course, Swingers comparisons are unfair. Although this is the first time that Favreau and Vaughn share writing credits, which should welcome such high hopes, Couples Retreat is actually a different kettle of comedy altogether, as it confirms that Mikey and Trent are all grown up.

Typical couple-with-kids Dave and Ronnie (Vaughn and Malin Ackerman) reluctantly agree to go to a tropical island with their friends, pragmatic couple Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) who plan to attend the week-long marriage counselling programme available there.

[gallery]Joined by their other friends, quarrelsome Joey and Lucy (Favreau and Kristin Davis), and post-divorce Shane with his young rebound girlfriend Trudy (Faison Love and Kali Hawk), the pair look forward to a holiday of fun and frolics but are instead forced to partake in the relationship therapy for which Jason and Cynthia had signed up.

It's an almost embarrassingly simple premise, with responsibility clearly given to the actors to just 'funny it up' in front of the camera when they get there. In fact, that pretty much seems to be the extent of the script - go to island, set up wacky scenario, improvise funny. But with this fine comic cast, that should be enough, shouldn't it?

Well, there are laughs to be had, with enough genuinely amusing moments to make the film more than watchable, but you can't escape the feeling that it's all a bit mediocre for the talent that's on display.

With its exotic location and the inclusion of one Kristen Bell in the cast, the movie inevitably draws comparisons with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but it's actually more like watching the gag reel on that film's DVD, in which you can see all the unused improvisations. It's funny, but it's clearly not the greatest material out there.

The film is just as disjointed as a gag reel too. In a bid to make sure that all the funny lines are included, whatever the cost, the movie flits between scenes that don't necessarily flow together. This also results in the humour often switching between 'family entertainment' to 'masturbation gags' at a moment's notice. While both are done to reasonable effect, the two don't always sit comfortably side by side.

And yet the film, to some extent, still charms. This is, in part, due to Vaughn's natural cynicism shining through which is genuinely funny, if not laugh-out-loud comedy gold, but is mainly down to the mixed bag of kooky characters that make up the rest of the cast. Well, they're funny at first, anyway.

Jason Bateman's overly practical planning provides some laughs but ultimately becomes annoying. The audience quickly loses respect for Jon Favreau's Joey when bullish resentment towards his wife quickly gets out of hand, and, despite the refreshment of seeing Kristin Davis in a role so contrary to Sex And The City's Charlotte, the same goes for her character when she clearly repays the sentiment.

In fact, the movie doesn't breed much love for any of its characters. Even as they all take turns to provide some laughs, when it all falls short, they call in the minor characters who do a much better job - although, with all things equal in this movie, the good is always balanced with the bad.

The brightest spark in the bunch of misfits is the UK's own Peter Serafinowicz - him from Spaced and Shaun Of The Dead - who plays the island's controlled but disapproving host (and a dress-alike for Christopher Lee's Scaramanga) and who really holds his own in the comedy stakes among more heavyweight names.

But Jean Reno's Marcel, the marriage guru who oversees all of the activities for the couples, is an embarrassing blot on his CV that sits closer to The Pink Panther than Leon. At the same time, Carlos Ponce's Salvadore, an over-sexed, over-sleazy muscle-bound yoga instructor inexplicably provides some of the funnier moments despite being one of the most hateable characters. [He's also a direct rip-off of Hank Azaria's character from Along Came Polly - Ed]

But as the movie makes you laugh with the characters and then fall out of love with every single one of them, it wouldn't be a rom-com if all differences weren't resolved at the end and, in many instances, the characters redeem themselves. Just not enough for you to walk out of the cinema feeling like it was money well spent.

And, of course, that's what it's all about. While the script seems lazy, the characterisation seems under-developed and the actors themselves don't seem like they're trying hard enough, the talent involved is still enough to make this an adequate film and one which will still attract cinema-goers everywhere. Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn may not be 'money' anymore, but they still know how to make it.

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