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Fred Doesn't Enjoy His Couples Retreat

Published October 9, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
Couples Retreat PosterCouples Retreat
Couples Retreat has good values but it’s not funny. It feels like a strike movie, where they had an outline of funny topics but couldn’t change a word to hone it into something workable. It’s surprising that Vince Vaughn would work that way, but that seems more likely than the idea that he would agree to an unfunny movie. He even made Four Christmases work.

Review: Couples Retreat

Every couple has their one dimensional problem. One pair is overworked. One is rigidly scheduled. One is angry and one is a rebound fling. That’s fine, since this should be more of a comedy than a relationship expose, but the relationship aspect works better, and that’s not good. I actually wanted to have the relationship Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell have. They may be anal but they’re supportively anal.

Vince Vaughn usually finds comedy in random tangents amid realistic situation. Here there are few tangents, and the situations aren’t relatable. The best jokes are the kids in a home furnishing store, and that’s already a Jackass joke. Vaughn’s reaction is real, but the film shouldn’t have to go there. His alarm code is funny too, but the couples aren’t funny. They should really be funny in a comedy that’s about them.

At its lowest, the film plays heartwarming kids with no sense of irony whatsoever. They tell their parents they should go on the trip, which could only be excusable if the film had a comment on that generic heartwarming moment in family movies. It doesn’t. It’s actually going there for real.

The film takes so long to explain that the couples are forced to participate in the bonding activities. Come on, you don’t really need to worry about a plausible explanation for the characters to participate. Just say, “Couples retreat, go.” It really feels like a script worried about adhering to a series of beats, with no room for actual comedy moments.

They drop in plot references about what characters do for a living so that it can pay off in a contrived third act development. Vaughn does a riff on Richard Simmons and follows it to its logical, but ridiculous, conclusion. Jon Favreau sets up a discussion about fantasy versus adultery, but it doesn’t even feel like they have anything to say about it. It’s just, “Here. Is. A. Moment. Where. People. Should. Laugh.” Even when there is built in banter, it still struggles to make humor out of it.

The shark scene is so stupid. That’s a comedy stunt gone wrong. “Let’s put them in a dangerous situation and watch them flail.” Yet the situation isn’t funny, and their reactions aren’t funny. The touchy feely yoga instructor is supposed to be funny, because it looks like he’s having sex with them, but he’s actually doing yoga poses, but it looks like sex and he’s a big beefcake and he’s grinding their crotches together even though it’s actually yoga. The comedians in this movie do not need to resort to that.

The characters finally address each other’s problems. There is some merit to their confrontations, in that they are right about the negative traits that they themselves constructed for the purposes of this plot. They do exemplify good relationship values, but they’re just not funny.

This is even like the fourth movie to do Guitar Hero. Is that supposed to be funny? People play a video game? Although, I will give them that this is the first movie where they actually show what playing Guitar Hero is really like. At least it looks like the filmmakers know Guitar Hero. I’ll give ‘em that much.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Universal Pictures

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