Take the title as an instruction

Edward Fitzgerald 22 October 2009

Couples Retreat – 1/5

Edward Fitzgerald believes that this Hollywood “comedy” sinks to new lows

The Hangover, a comedy about four friends taking an intoxicated trip to Las Vegas, has gotten old. That film, which had as its central conceit the terrible fear of age and of marrying—the arrested development mainstay of most current comedy ilk—has now grown up, and gotten married, and has renamed itself Couples Retreat. The new film is, like an aging person crawling toward the limelight, flat, out-of-touch and often embarrassing to watch.

Couples Retreat is the story of four friends, one of them well-adjusted, one pussy-whipped by his girlfriend, one anally retentive and one plain, who embark on a couples’ holiday at a tropical resort called Eden.

They are there at the behest of Jason (Jason Bateman), who wants to rescue his marriage to Cynthia (Kristen Bell), and has brought along his friends and their wives, which include Vince Vaughan, the director Jon Favreau and Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis.

Once on the island, the couples partake in a number of different activities, allowing the writers (stars Vaughan, Favreau, and Dana Fox) to compose their film as if it were a series of sketches.

There’s fish feeding, a task that involves bobbing in the ocean while throwing lumps of bloodied fish carcass, inevitably attracting a shark; a mandatory disrobing, allowing the larger-than-life actor Faizon Love to show the world his tidal wave of a gut, and a yoga session by an extremely sculpted expert (Carlos Ponce), who demonstrates positions upon the eager wives in a prolonged series of dry humps.

There is homophobic humour and genital humour and other moments of low taste, but the film never manages to embrace these conceits fully. Instead, the film plays out at such a dulled rate that even the most ridiculous or slapstick of moments fail to register; the sentimental moments too, fail to soften.

Couples Retreat should not however be mistaken for a cheap, crass or tacky comedy—rather, there is no comedy. The film fills a void that does exist in cinema; there’s plenty of movies wherein the hero finds his one true love, and plenty that deal with the joy of a great duplicity of lovers, but none that celebrate the long, monogamous road and this is where Couples Retreat wants to settle in. It accomplishes nothing in this area.

Even when fond of the cast members involved, none of them (especially Bateman, who appears to be eternally recycling his character from Arrested Development) bring anything to their roles which they have not displayed elsewhere. Those keen on Vince Vaughan, a man who can regularly be accused of performing while asleep, will be disappointed by the lack of zingers he fires off in better films like Dodgeball.

The B-Team includes our own Peter Serafinowicz as a doting and mildly psychotic hotel attendant and Jean Reno, trying too hard as a wacky shaman to the couple’s marital woes.

We watch the couples sit in therapy and bicker amongst themselves, gradually learning more and adding layer upon layer of turgid exposition, until eventually the characters turn on us, the audience, through pithy and contrived diatribes upon the meaning of marriage and good character.

So achingly bad are these moments—appearing as artificial as the two boys who hold hands on the stairs and plead for their parents to stay together—that one can only wish to divorce the film immediately.

Running on empty for every one of its 113 minutes, this SAGA holiday version of a Vegas road trip doesn’t deserve to be seen by anyone. When Vaughan and Serafinowicz battle it out in one of the ugliest pieces of in-movie product advertising I have yet seen, adding mindless commercialism to the film’s list of authors, the only interesting aspect of Couples Retreat is to wonder precisely which hack community put it together in the first place.

Couples Retreat is now showing at Vue Cinemas

Edward Fitzgerald