Not really a refreshing vacation, Couples Retreat. Instead, expect the kind of thrills you’d get on a wet summer’s day in Butlins.
Starting off well, Couples Retreat sees Vince Vaughn dream up an idea about a holiday resort for couples – who get to indulge in the fine food, the bright blue water and the pristine sands, but only after they have finished partaking in the non-negotiable therapy courses. Hilarity should ensue, and at first it looks set to do just that.
Vaughn is joined by his old friend and sometime Iron Man director Jon Favreau in both acting and scripting duties. Surprisingly, the Swingers duo manage to change roles from their debut outing. Here Favreau manages to be the loose womaniser with questionable morals, while Vince looks on with a few sharp, well-placed one-liners. You’d think the film was an exercise in bringing this couple back together. It’s not, though – a supporting cast features more familiar faces.
The purpose of filling the film with these four sets of couples is clearly to make it relate on some level with different members of the audience – a trick that is sure to work. Jason Bateman is always a welcome addition to any cast, and here he plays the uptight but seemingly happily husband of Kristen Bell‘s Cynthia. Of all the couples, they are the most difficult to accept as a real pairing. Sticking glasses on a hot woman does not make her a nerd. Cinematic history has taught this lesson on several occasions, but this couple is even harder to swallow considering how old the two are – presumably he proposed to her when she was an embryo.
As the couples embark on the resort, they are first shown around and taken aback by its beauty, as is the audience. We Brits may notice Shaun of the Dead and Spaced alumni Peter Serafinowicz playing the resorts manager, Sctanley, who insists his name is spelt with a ‘C’. An odd role and not one as nearly as funny as the film thinks it is. As the couples indulge in the therapy, we get to meet the therapists (a scene stealing Michael John Higgins is a stand-out) and also the resort’s owner Marcel, played by Jean Reno.
The film packs in plenty of characters and, as they first take part in the therapy sessions, it amuses – especially the awkward yoga scene with an overly enthusiastic instructor. The characters soon start realising truths about themselves and, after the young Trudy runs away to the neighbouring island, they find themselves following her.
Trudy’s exile occurs in the last third of the film, the toughest part of any film to master. Before this, it moves along at a nice enough pace with a few chuckles here and there to make this a likeable, if not unspectacular comedy. But never before have we witnessed such a sudden drop in quality.
Alarm bells start ringing after the utterly illogical motives of the leads as they split off. Some turn character for no other reason than to create conflict and to propel the plot in a certain direction. One scene involves Dave (Vaughn) having a face-off on Guitar Hero with Sctanley – a scene that is woeful between two adults to begin with, but soon becomes the most spectacularly badly edited sequence in a major movie of the 21st century.
Then as they reach the ‘party island’ they resolve all their issues in the midst of all the drinking and dancing. It becomes a repulsive display of a cinematic closure, one made more offensive by the sudden appearance of Shane‘s (Faizon Love) ex-wife. The film then pretends that all this was part of the therapy and that the infinitely wise Marcel knew what was coming and what everyone would do, and implausibly gives them all wooden animals to represent their spirit.
Now the film is all wrapped up in a nice package and as the credits roll we get treated to snaps of the stars jet-skiing, swimming with dolphins and enjoying the sun, sea and sand. It soon becomes apparent that some idiot studio executive has just paid a bunch of actors to go on an extended holiday.