It’s a funny little coincidence that the FTC would introduce new regulations this week to ensure that bloggers make full disclosures when they are offered payment in exchange for reviews or coverage. Some of you may already know this, but Universal Pictures — the studio behind Couples Retreat — spared no expense (despite the fact that they are strapped for cash) and flew quite a few members of the press out to Bora Bora and paid for their accommodations, hoping — I suspect — to gain some more positive coverage. My guess is that the puff pieces were just a little more puffier this week, although I’d like to believe that no critics’ opinions were swayed by the four-star treatment on a fucking resort island.
Of course, we weren’t invited to the Bora Bora junket (full disclosure: I’m not at all bitter). But why would I want to spend a few days, on a studio’s dime, on a tropical isalnd with fruity beverages, water you can see through, and magnificent scenery. I live in Maine, after all. It’s a beautiful state (full disclosure: It’s no Bora Bora). I live both near the countryside and five minutes from the ocean (full disclosure: Summer only lasts six weeks in Maine). Besides, I wouldn’t want my journalistic integrity called into question in exchange for a free resort vacation spent with Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell (in a bikini) and the director of Iron Man (full disclosure: I could’ve spared a little integrity in exchange for a cabana interview with Vaughn and Bell over piña coladas.)
Of course, none of it would’ve had any effect on my review of Couples Retreat (full disclosure: I’d have been too drunk to compose it). It’s a heinous family comedy with about as many laughs as Vince Vaughn has chins these days (full disclosure: That was a cheap joke). It’s a shame, too, because Couples Retreat represents a massive waste of talent: In addition to Vaughn, Bell, Bateman, and Favreau, the movie also features Malin Ackerman, Faison Love, and Kristen Davis (full disclosure: Those last three have no talent to waste, and Kristen’s Bell’s talent mostly resides in her bikini area). I expected a mediocre comedy, at best, but nevertheless came away massively disappointed (full disclosure: I may have slept briefly).
More frustrating is the fact that, though Favreau has made several, mostly brief, appearances in Vaughn’s films over the years (the bad ones), this was the first full-on collaboration between the two since Doug Liman’s seminal ’90s comedy, Swingers (written by Favreau, although Vaughn often jokingly likes to claim that Favreau merely “wrote” down what Vaughn was saying). I suppose Couples Retreat was meant to be a sort of Swingers for couples settled into their marriages. But there’s no attitude in Couples Retreat — it’s just a mesmerizingly dull 107 minutes. It’s Heartbreak Kid without the gross-out gags. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why two people as talented as Favreau and Vaughn decided to make it (full disclosure: It was for the fucking money).
The setup: Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell play an overly systematic married couple — who have resorted to charting their relationship in Power Point presentations — who decide, after failing to conceive, to consider a divorce. However, before they make that step toward finality, they convince their three couples-friends to join them on an island Eden for married couples with problems. Vince Vaughn’s Dave and Ackerman’s Ronnie, — a solid, dependable middle-class Tim-Allen couple with run-of-the-mill gendered problems (he wants to watch football; she wants to pick out new tiles) — decide to join them, along with Jon Favreau’s Joey and his wife, Cynthia (Kristen Davis), who hate each other and are waiting only for their daughter to graduate high school before they decide to go off and fuck other people. Then there’s Shane (Faison Love), a thirty-something divorcée who decides to bring his 20-year-old girlfriend of two weeks along for reasons that aren’t entirely clear (full disclosure: They needed a token black couple).Naturally, through a few therapy sessions, massages, some Yoga, a “couples whisperer” (Jean Reno), and various other ridiculous contrivances, the couples drift even further apart before another, bigger contrivance (involving Guitar Hero) comes along and provides the impetus for the predictable happy ending (full disclosure: I was happy only because it was over),
Couples Retreat, which comes from first-time director Peter Billingsley (Ralphie in A Christmas Story) is tired, lazy, spectacularly unfunny, and full of product shout-outs that appeal to its heartland audience (Applebees, Bud Light). The acting is hammy; the situations are forced; the wit is nil; and the comedy is only hinted at. The only real question that Couples Retreat raises is why these attractive women, all of whom look spectacular in bikinis, would decide to be with four schlubby, pale, beer-bellied men. Unfortunately, that is a question I simply can’t answer (full disclosure: It’s because the pale, beer-bellied men wrote, directed, and produced the movie).