In a lot of ways, it’s easier to rip on a drama or an action movie than it is to skewer a comedy movie. There are lots of ways in which drama and action can come up short – insipid, recycled plotlines and one-liners, stale characters and tacked-on romantic subplots, and Shia LeBeouf, to name just a few. With a lackluster comedy, most of one’s barbs boil down to “that’s not very funny, is it?”
Luckily for me, Vince Vaughn vehicle Couples Retreat is a different sort of comedy, one that doesn’t seem willing to try to be funny at all. It sometimes tries to hit the same so-awkward-it’s-funny notes as the UK version of The Office, but way more often than not it just ends up being so-awkward-it’s-awkward.
Forget Me at the Movies, I should just rename this feature “Shitty Movies I Saw On a Date.”
Couples Retreat blows its proverbial load right out of the gate when an aggressively, almost unsettlingly cute kid pees first in his parents’ bed and then in a display toilet at a home supply store. I was a little hopeful – along with old people swearing, little kids swearing, fanfiction penned by eleven-year-olds, and the word ‘bitches’, small children peeing in places where they are not supposed to be peeing is on a short list of things that almost always manage to be funny. At least, you know, if you aren’t their primary caregiver.
Another note about Couples Retreat – a small boy peeing is so much funnier than the rest of the movie that it merits its own paragraph.
Shortly after, we’re introduced to all of our dysfunctional couples – first, Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, two workaholics with two children who keep them super busy. This pairing is the most notable not for the chemistry between the two actors, but because it serves to perpetuate the trend of casting Vince Vaughn opposite romantic interests who would be two to three times too attractive for him in real life.
And now, the even less interesting couples: Faizon Love plays a large, recently divorced black man striving to please his new 20-something girlfriend (Kali Hawk). Jon Favreau plays an unlikable putz who married his high school sweetheart (Kristin Davis) after knocking her up. Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell round out the cast as an infertile couple on the brink of divorce – they appear to share an affection for PowerPoint and not much else.
Jason Bateman probably turns in the best performance here, and he’s clearly coasting, playing the same well-meaning but controlling character he has been playing since Arrested Development. And you thought Michael Cera was a victim of typecasting.
Anyway, wouldn’t it just be wacky if all of these mismatched couples ended up at an island resort where they had to talk out all of their differences and learn how to love each other again? Man, that would be an awesome formula for a screwball comedy. Man.
Oh, wait, I forgot, that’s what happens.
Things rapidly deflate once the eight-some arrive at their tropical paradise counseling center. Vince Vaughn and wife discover that their “good enough” marriage might not be good enough. Faizon Love quickly finds that he can’t keep up with his jailbait. Jason Bateman begins suffocating his wife with his methodical approach to their marriage. Jon Favreau immediately starts touching himself and plotting his escape to the Other Side of the Island, where coeds are always partying.
The movie seems content to throw the ingredients for a potentially okay comedy into a pot and let them sit there, hoping that they’ll just turn funny. Truth be told, everything after the first ten minutes and before the last ten minutes of the movie is about as interesting and hilarious as actually watching four couples in therapy. There are long, drawn out conversations that take forever to get anywhere. There are dick jokes you can see from fifteen minutes away. There are unfunny arguments that make the audience further dislike the already bland characters.
The movie runs at a slim 107 minutes, but they somehow to fit in a full seven hours of therapy scenes. I’m not sure what technology they leveraged to make this possible, but I sincerely hope that it was destroyed.
Then, all of a sudden, the movie realizes that it has been an hour and a half and nothing has happened! One extremely uncomfortable and unfunny Guitar Hero duel later (God, I wish I were kidding), all of the couples have made it over to the Party Side of the island, where they all kiss and make up in the course of just about five minutes, and oh yeah, Faizon Love runs into his age-appropriate ex-wife and gets back together with her. Movie isn’t going to give itself a happy ending, I guess.
The next morning, the reunited couples go back to the other side of the island, where a fruity Asian version of Ringo Starr tells them what their animal spirits are and they happily jet ski into the sunset. You’d be happy about it if you gave a shit about any of them.
To call Couples Retreat unmemorable is to do it an injustice. My girlfriend, though awake and alert for the entire affair, once forgot a major plot point that had happened not five minutes prior. Another highlight was during one of the interminable therapy scenes, when she turned to me and said “I’m sorry.” Rarely have I felt so vindicated.
The fact that Couples Retreat was America’s #1 movie over the weekend speaks poorly both of other movies in theaters right now and of America’s taste. If we’re so willing to make a hit out of a movie that aims to be mediocre and misses completely, well, maybe we don’t deserve any better.