Movie Reviews

Ken reviews: Couples Retreat

By Ken KwekMovies - 01 December 2009 12:00 AM | Updated 09 December 2014

Ken reviews: Couples Retreat

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Rating: 1 out of 5

More than a decade after breaking into Hollywood, actors Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn haven't grown up. They've just grown silly.

In 1996, a relatively unknown actor-writer named Jon Favreau teamed up with his friend, the then-equally-unknown actor Vince Vaughn, and made a modest indie picture called Swingers.

The comedy, which charted the heart-wrenching recovery of a young actor (Favreau) from a six-year relationship, turned out to be a sleeper hit and transformed its director (The Bourne Identity's Doug Liman) and two leading men into major Hollywood players.

I saw Swingers in 2003. As an angst-ridden 24-year-old who had recently experienced grim rejection, I completely identified with the humiliation felt by Favreau's character. I was sold on the film for its brutal, hilarious portrayal of young men in quarter-life crises.

As such, I was greatly cheered to learn that Favreau and Vaughn had, over a decade later, reunited to co-write and co-produce another comedy about relationships -- the supposedly more mature Couples Retreat.

Now in their late-30s/early-40s prime, I imagined the two had decided to do a grown-up version of Swingers, a comedy about the pains and joys (mostly the pains) of married life.

I was wrong. It seems years of Hollywood success have blunted the filmmakers' emotional acuity and their love for storytelling.

Couples Retreat is a misguided film erected on an implausible conceit. Four troubled couples gather on an island paradise, hoping to save their beleaguered relationships.

Joey (Favreau) and his wife (Kristin Davis) have endured years of sexual ennui after succumbing to a shotgun union in their late teens; Dave (Vaughn) has allowed stability and nesting priorities to override passion in his marriage with Ronnie (Malin Akerman); Jason (Jason Bateman) and his wife (Kristen Bell) are teetering on the edge of divorce because they can't conceive; and Shane (Faizon Love) and his lady love (Kali Hawk) are present -- it would appear -- just so the group seems a touch less 'waspy'.

The film charts the supposed revival of these relationships, as the couples submit themselves to a slew of bogus New Age exercises, administered by a group of patently idiotic therapists.

With a plot so embarrassingly fatuous and characters emptied of truth and dimension, the film is doomed from the start. The relationships in question are never real enough to be tested, and so the filmmakers rely on jokes (a few passable, most irredeemable) to fill a story bereft of truth. 

I could name a host of other pickles that plague the film, but its fundamental problem is the abandonment of honesty. Gone is Favreau's fevered writing and affecting characterisations. Gone is Vaughn's credibility as a foolhardy tough guy with a weak spot. All that's left is vacuity.

This is a shame, not least because the two have shown themselves to be capable of producing films of both commercial and artistic merit. One hopes they have enough awareness left to look back -- as I did after watching Couples Retreat -- and examine how success has marred the promise of their earlier work.

About Ken Kwek
Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and the forthcoming Kidnapper (2010).