REVIEW: Couples Retreat

28 11 2009

Hollywood loves combo deals.  A recent favorite is the probing exposé of a relationship mixed with comedy.  “Couples Retreat” follows this recipe, but there is only a fair amount of laughter added to offset watching long sessions of couples therapy.  Surprisingly, the script (written by stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau) captures a wide scope of realistic relationships, perhaps some of the best in comedy of this type.  However, the writing is also the film’s weakness as it plays like a rerun due to its devotion to the typical “relationship movie” formula.  You come to expect some master plan behind all the exercises that pull the couples apart (while subtly bringing them together), but the movie amounts to little more than just a string of events.

The married-with-kids couple whose relationship has become like a job (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman).  The high-school couple who has been together way too long (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis).  The anal couple who is frustrated because everything doesn’t go according to their perfect plan (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell).  The older man-younger woman couple that always manages to raise some eyebrows (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk).  Chances are, you know at least one of these couples.  “Couples Retreat” dwells largely on the familiarity of its characters to propel the more serious side of the movie.  At the same time, it allows the strengths of the actors to provide some comic relief.  Vince Vaughn does a few trademark trite spiels; Jon Favreau gets plenty of moments to be curmudgeonly; Jason Bateman plays average Joe with a tinge of neurosis.

“Couples Retreat” doesn’t really succeed as a comedy, but it does manage to portray some very realistic relationships with very real problems.  As the directorial debut of Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” – you know, the one they play all Christmas on TBS), it’s not such a bad place to start, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.  We’ve seen all the stars in this movie do better, and it isn’t too far out of line to request more.  But for what it’s worth, this will provide you some amusement yet fail to deliver the belly-laughs we have come to expect from actors like Vaughn, Favreau, and Bateman.  B- /

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What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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