When Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn struck indie gold in 1996 with Swingers, it would have been hard to foresee the roads their respective careers would take them, and the need for them to return again and again to collaborate with one another. Favreau wrote and directed Made in 2001, and followed that film with costarring gigs in decidedly average Vaughn vehicles The Break-Up and Four Holidays (Four Christmases), before the two decided to write Couples Retreat. Unfortunately for both them and us, they’ve never recaptured the spirit and wit of Swingers, and Couples Retreat continues their star-crossed misalignment.
When Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) determine their marriage has been swamped by a prolonged period of unsuccessfully attempting to conceive, they decide to trick their three best couple friends into joining them at a resort in Bora Bora. After being assured that the couple-building workshops and marriage counselling sessions are optional, their friends agree, only to find the week’s holiday isn’t quite the fun and relaxation they had imagined.
Couples Retreat is at its best when… actually, there is never a point when this trite, overlong, underdeveloped and gratuitous waste of time, money and film stock is ever at its best, so there isn’t much point pretending there is. The problems and failures are many and they are profound.
The plot as detailed above seems like something a bunch of guys dreamed up in a ‘brainstorming session’ and then, after committing it to a whiteboard, forgot about developing any further while they cracked open a beer. The flimsy excuse for getting the glamour cast of Couples Retreat to the glamour location of Bora Bora simply cannot sustain a near-two-hour feature film, and the failure to progress beyond an outline to a narrative that allows meaningful growth of the characters is perhaps its greatest flaw. One character’s resolution depends solely on a deus ex machina, another indication that the writers simply couldn’t be bothered.
The other most significant failure is that of the director, Peter Billingsley (executive producer of The Break-Up and Four Holidays, as well as Favreau’s Iron Man, surprise, surprise), and the dynamic duo themselves – there seems to be no-one in place to show any restraint in the production of the film. 113 minutes is a ridiculous length for a film of this nature, but greater still is the lack of restraint shown in editing particular scenes or in the writing of particular jokes. One scene – the group yoga sequence featuring the inappropriate attention of the yoga instructor to his students – goes so far beyond the joke into the realm of boredom it is simply incredible no-one thought it might need a trim. Another scene, in which Vaughn plays a console game against one of the resort’s instructors, is perhaps the most gratuitous piece of product placement in the history of that concept, and another example of a scene being at least twice as long as needed to make the necessary point for the construction of the narrative. It becomes clearer and clearer that making a film with your buddies is frequently bad business.
The list of problems extends to the dreadful writing of the female characters, who, in reality, would have left these four bozos long ago. It is unsurprising to see the four males leading off the credits, given they have used their female counterparts simply as gag fodder – Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis and Kali Hawk are sorely underutilised, and deserved better. The remaining supporting cast features a bizarre (and degrading) appearance by Temuera Morrison, and Jean Reno doing possibly the worst impersonation of a Frenchman speaking English ever immortalised on screen. Yes, Reno is a Frenchman speaking English, but this version is so ridiculous it cannot possibly be described.
Occasional (okay, very occasional) moments of wit (that do enough only to generate the slightest of curls at the side of the mouth, and never provoke outright laughter) aside, Couples Retreat is one disastrous miscalculation after another, with only one redeeming feature – Bora Bora is a spectacular setting. It has been debased by its use in this film.Rating: