Couples Retreat sees the creative reunion of Vince Vaughan and Jon Favreau over a decade after Swingers launched their careers. (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The pair reunited in 2001 for a film called Made that also stared Puff Daddy and no one ever saw, but we’ll discount that for now.)
Since the catchphrase-spawning Swingers, an acutely observed buddy comedy that rose above the need for a constant stream of dick’n’fart jokes to get its laughs, the pair have gone on to hit the big time: Vaughan as one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men and Favreau as the director of Iron Man, amongst others things.
So it’s fair to say that these guys are the kind of people that get movies made. Which is about the only explanation I can provide for why, exactly, Couples Retreat ever did get made, because this is a vanity project of the worst order.
Here’s a possible sample of the pitch Vaughan gave to Favreau (the duo wrote, produced and starred in the film, by the way):
VV: Hey Jon, remember how much fun we had on Swingers when we only had, like, $250,000 to spend?
JF: Vince! Yeah, man, I was just watching that again the other day. Good times.
VV: Well, baby, I’ve got an idea for a new movie – some crap about four couples and their relationship troubles. But get this; instead of just filming it in New Jersey, or some shit, everybody goes to Bora-Bora. I don’t have a script yet, but if we’re both onboard we’ll have no problem financing it. We’ll schedule the shoot for January. Just think, two months of paid holiday in Bora-Bora over winter, baby. Pure money.
JF: (Thinking for a moment) There’ll be hot chicks in bikinis everywhere, right?
VV: Yeah, baby, whatever you want…that’s the best part. We’ll produce it, too!
JF: Count me in.
Kudos should be given for the impressive ensemble cast that includes Vaughan, Favreau, Jason Bateman, Jean Reno, Faizon Love, Kristin Davis (Charlotte from Sex In The City), Malin Akerman (Watchmen), Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and quite a few other faces you’ll recognise. However, for the most part the talent is wasted on preachy dialogue, lame set pieces and the sort of cliché-ridden characterisation that could have been sketched out on the back of napkin over some lunchtime pina coladas.
The plot, as far as it goes, centres on Vaughan as the likeable suburban everyman Dave, who isn’t just a great dad and perfect husband, but the emotional core of his friendship group, too. At a kids’ party, Bateman’s pedant character Jason and his wife Cynthia (Bell) give a PowerPoint presentation – serious alarm bells started ringing here – on why they’ve got one last chance to save their marriage. The answer may be something called the ‘Pelican Package’ on the remote holiday paradise of Eden, run by the enigmatic ‘Couples Whisperer’ Monsieur Marcel (Reno).
Unfortunately, Jason and Cynthia can’t afford to go by themselves, but have received a group discount offer for eight people. Anyway, the three other couples are roped in to go too, on the understanding that they can all enjoy the ‘Disneyland for adults’ while Bateman and Bell receive Marcel’s couples’ therapy. But they soon find out that the therapy is a compulsory part of the package, and everyone must attend.
Basically, a whole load of blah blah blah then leads to lots of contrived man-emoting over love and relationship troubles, which everybody knows men never actually do. Ever. Even when girls aren’t around.
This leaves Couples Retreat as a sort of midlife crisis bromance about unlikable people and their long-suffering wives. The only character that produces any sympathy is Faizon Love’s Shane, who seems like a nice guy. Vaughan, for the record, loses all his goodwill in a cringe-worthy shark ‘attack’ skit that leaves him looking like a complete douche bag. And, when all is said and done, the film’s cerebral central message is that a good, old-fashioned night on the lash and a spot of rumpy-pumpy is all a couple needs to work through a divorce.
Also, the amount of product placement crammed into Couples Retreat is almost insulting. Apple, Starbucks and Guitar Hero (which Vaughan ‘duels’ someone on, in the film’s most excruciating-of-all scene) are just some of the prominent American lifestyle brands given blatant advertisements by the filmmakers. Here’s a hint: name-checking stuff like Facebook does not make your story relevant to modern audiences. It’s just crass.
I will concede that I’m hardly part of Couples Retreat‘s target demographic. But for a film about relationships, it lacks any warmth or wit. And, crucially, characters you can care about. In short, Couples Retreat is about as enjoyable as getting stuck behind a screaming baby on a long hall flight only to find out that the airline has lost your luggage when you get through customs.