Couples Retreat (2009)

You Definitely Don’t Pull a Hypothetical Gun on Your Therapist

I’ve had today’s movie sitting on my desk for a little while now, ever since it arrived from Netflix.  When it came out in theaters, I knew that I liked all the people that were in the movie, but found that I never had any interest in watching it.  The thing that probably drew me in finally was the fact that there were a lot of really good looking women in bikinis throughout this movie, and also a pretty solid potential for comedy.  This movie is Couples Retreat, written by Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, and Dana Fox, directed by Peter Billingsley, and starring Vince Vaughn, Malin Akerman, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Jon Favreau, Kristin Davis, Faizon Love, Kali Hawk, Tasha Smith, Jean Reno, Peter Serafinowicz, Carlos Ponce, Temuera Morrison, John Michael Higgins, Ken Jeong, Amy Hill, and Karen Shenaz David.  I had no idea that a person from both Scorpion King 2 and Scorpion King 3 were in this movie when I started watching it.  That’s just happy coincidence.

Jason (Jason Bateman) and his wife Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are having marriage troubles, so they decide that they should go to a resort to work on them.  But they’re also having financial troubles, so they need their friends to go with them in order to get a package discount.  Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman), Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), and Shane (Faizon Love) and Trudy (Kali Hawk) all begrudgingly agree to accompany them.  Dave and Ronnie have a stable marriage with kids, so they don’t believe they need a couples retreat.  Joey and Lucy’s relationship is on the rocks, but they prefer to just cheat on each other a lot instead of working it out.  Shane and Trudy have only just started dating.  But they all go anyways, thinking that Jason and Cynthia will go through the counseling while they can just enjoy their vacation.  When they arrive at Eden, the resort host Sctanley (Peter Serafinowicz) informs them that they must all go through the counseling or they must all leave the resort.  The group must now endure the resort owner, Marcel (Jean Reno), and his unorthodox methods, the amorous Yoga instructor Salvador (Carlos Ponce), and the temptations of the sister island, Eden East, and their wild singles parties.  But they’ll probably all end up better in the end.

Some of the expectations that I had going into this movie were let down.  I knew there would be good looking ladies in bikinis, and the movie delivers on that exquisitely.  There is scarcely a woman in this movie that is not ridiculously good looking and usually wearing a bikini.  The other expectation I had of the movie (given the cast) was that it would be really funny.  It wasn’t.  It had it’s moments, to be sure, but I wanted a lot more laughter than I got.  The introduction to Salvador is a super awkward and sometimes funny scene, as almost every Yoga pose he teaches involves laying on a member of the cast in a sexual manner, whether it’s the girls or the boys.  But there were a couple of funny moments.  The rest of the time it was roughly what you come to expect of a Vince Vaughn movie.  It just seems like the writers just put down a rough outline of what was going to happen and just went to those locations and talked nonstop until they felt they had enough comedy to fill a movie.  A lot of the cast inspires confidence that this will be a good philosophy, but the random things they were saying only got smirks out of me, with the occasional funny one.  This movie also does something that too many comedies feel like they have to do: try to have a meaning.  Obviously it’s all about couples retreats and stuff like that, but don’t lay this message on us about marriage.  It gets a little too heavy handed and sappy for my taste.  This movie had potential to be a good, ridiculous comedy.  I understand that the status quo is to have a little bit of a message behind the movie, but if you lay it on too thick it just bogs down the funniness.  They also seem to have reached a point at the end of the movie where they furiously try to tie up all the loose ends of the movie about 5 minutes before it ends, all within a 10 minute span.  The relationship problems were mostly just hinted at up until that point, then they all instantly reach a boiling point, but then fix it almost immediately.  Another sign that the story of the movie was only vaguely touched upon.  And what was with all the Guitar Hero talk in this movie?  I like Guitar Hero just fine, and I also understand the purpose of SOME product placement in a movie, but they talk about this thing all the time.  Vaughn’s job is to sell the game and, coincidentally, it becomes a strange and unnecessary plot point near the end of the movie.  The thing that the movie does fantastically is the look.  And not just the smoking hot women in bikinis … and I’m sure there are men that ladies would like to look at.  I mean the settings.  It’s probably pretty easy to make a beautiful looking movie in a tropical island setting, but every bit of this movie is colorful and vibrant once they reach the island.  So, if nothing else, you’ll enjoy looking at it.  A great movie on mute, perhaps.

I perhaps went into this movie expecting too much, but it was mainly based on the cast.  I like Vince Vaughn in a lot of his movies, but he does tend to play the same exact character in almost all of them.  Sometimes they work, and sometimes they’re just annoying.  In this movie, I had no problems with him, but he never really did anything funny either.  Just a couple of sparse moments.  The same thing could be said for Jason Bateman too.  He usually plays a completely different kind of character from Vaughn, but it’s usually a pretty neurotic guy.  He’s that here too.  And also has a few moments that were funny.  The biggest problem I had with these couples was with Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis.  I don’t know if I missed some explanation in the beginning of this movie, but I never had any idea how these two were still a couple.  They seemed to mainly just resent and avoid each other, and both of them just kept trying to fuck anybody but their spouse.  Then, at the very end of the movie, they fall in love with each other again because he invites her to Applebees.  …Alright.  I guess that’s a thing.  The only thing I can really say about Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, and Kali Hawk was that they are gorgeous.  Kristen Bell has a decent bit of acting around the end of the movie.  It took me a little bit to figure out where I knew Peter Serafinowicz from, but when I realized he was in Shaun of the Dead, I got really excited.  His character, Sctanley, probably had the largest amount of funny moments, but he wasn’t around enough to fix the movie.  I also felt like John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong – two more people I generally expect a great deal of funny from – were greatly underused.  And remember when I reviewed all the Scorpion King movies?  Karen Shenaz David (from Scorpion King 2) and Temuera Morrison (from Scorpion King 3) were in this one too.  What a strange coincidence.  But they also had very minor parts here, so there’s nothing more to say.

I think it is probably a dangerous thing to throw a large amount of big names into a mediocre comedy.  We’ll just go in expecting too much.  This movie has it’s charms, but it should have been much funnier with the cast that it includes.  I wouldn’t think anyone would actually hate this movie, though.  The movie is a gorgeous thing to behold because of it’s tropical setting, vibrant colors, and – last but not least – gorgeous ladies in bikinis.  You just won’t laugh that much.  Couples Retreat gets “You got a pose called Yoga guy gets his ass kicked?” out of “Holy shit!  It’s like a screensaver!”

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A Christmas Story (1983)

Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie

This movie came to me not as a request, but a demand.  It was not as my normal, politely phrased requests, but as the declaration that one of my friendships would immediately dissolve if this movie was not reviewed post haste.  Well I thankfully don’t have to make any changes to my friends list on Facebook because this movie has been watched and, by the time this is being read, has been reviewed.  Though the holiday season is over, I was told it was necessary to watch this Christmas movie.  I had thus far been able to avoid watching it, even though apparently everyone has seen it and it plays on TV for free nearly constantly during the holiday season.  This movie came out the year I was born.  I’m sorry Loni, but it’s true: I’m slightly younger than you.  Please stop crying.  But this movie is renowned as a holiday classic, so lets get into my review for A Christmas Story, written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark, directed by Bob Clark, and starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Ian Petrella, Tedde Moore, Zack Ward, Yano Anaya, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Tommy Lee Wallace, and the voice of Jean Shepherd.

This is a vaguely difficult story to follow because there’s one main storyline, but a great deal of subplots that really serve no purpose to the main plot.  This is due to the fact that the movie is based on a collection of short stories by Jean Shepherd.  The main plot of the movie is that Christmas is coming to Hohman, Indiana, and all of the kids are getting all worked up about it.  One boy named Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) wants one thing, and one thing only, for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.  Unfortunately for him, his parents (Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin) are not keen on the idea, thinking he’ll shoot his eye out.  Ralphie must find a way to change their minds, or to convince Santa to bring one.  Subplots include his father winning a lamp shaped like a leg, dad’s constant cursing leading to Ralphie dropping the F bomb, his friend Schwartz (R.D. Robb) dares his other friend Flick (Scott Schwartz) to lick a flagpole, Ralphie receiving a decoder ring, and Ralphie dealing with a bully named Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) and his sidekick Grover Dill (Yano Anaya).

Unfortunately for my former friend Loni, I did not like this movie as much as everyone else seems to.  It was decent and vaguely funny, but not strong enough to make me laugh.  I would say this about it though: probably one of the best Christmas movies.  Most Christmas movies are strictly kids movies and could only be enjoyed by children and people who saw these movies when they were children.  Nightmare Before Christmas holds up as a quality movie, but movies like How The Grinch Stole Christmas aren’t that great in adulthood.  This movie is good because it doesn’t strike me as a kids movie.  Nothing happens that’s super adult, but it does kind of shit on the whole Santa thing.  I still believed in Santa until I saw this movie.  First, they stretch continuity by having Santa participate in a parade and then be in the mall asking children what they want.  How could he have made it there in time?  Impossible!  Then, Santa’s kind of a dick and makes you think “This guy might not be the REAL Santa.”  Then, it turns out the parents are the ones who gave them the Santa gifts.  WHAT?!  Mom, you lying bitch!  Because it ruins the idea of Santa for the world, I can’t say it’s really for kids, but I didn’t find it all that entertaining as an adult either. The constant interjections from the narrator kind of got on my nerves, as did Ralphie’s little brother.  I did find the dream sequences pretty enjoyable.  I think it’s probably a fairly good representation of the goings-ons of a child’s mind.  He imagined that he would need the BB gun to fend off intruders from his backyard, he imagined writing the best essay in his class and everyone reacting as if a 9-year old had just written the greatest novel of our time, and he imagined that he went blind from having soap in his mouth.  These were fairly well executed.  There were a couple of things in this movie that didn’t make sense to me.  First of all, the scene that is probably seen the most out of this movie of the kid getting his tongue stuck to the flagpole.  Not that it happened, but that they called the fire department and the police department over it.  You can’t produce a cup of warm water?  Also, why did the teacher act like the kids should feel bad about daring him to do it?  Why?  I just made a suggestion, he was the one stupid enough to do it!  Also, though he doesn’t say the word in the movie, I don’t get the parents getting mad at Ralphie for saying “Oh, fuck.”  First of all, I’d fuckin’ high five my kid for that, and secondly, how do you not know where he heard that word?  The dad is downstairs cursing like a sailor about 4 times in the movie!  Then, the part where Ralphie beats the bejesus out of the bully.  First of all, I liked the scene, regardless of the fact that blood was coming out of his nose when Ralphie was clearly working the body.  Unless that kid was hemorrhaging internally, that’s not how it works.  Afterwards, Ralphie starts crying, mainly because he was only 9 and had already killed a man with his bare hands.  It made me think that perhaps his parents were right in not wanting to give the kid a BB gun, because he either has a severe anger management problem or a demon inhabiting his body.  But then, while wearing a ridiculous bunny costume, he worries that his reputation at school would be tarnished if they knew about this.  How would that happen?  First off, you defeated a bully that tormented all the kids of school.  And secondly, you beat him to death with your bare hands!  Let those mother fuckers talk shit!  See what happens!

When I had heard that ::SPOILER ALERT:: Ralphie shoots his eye out when he actually gets the BB gun, I assumed he would lose his eye in an accident with it, or in the very least that it would have gotten itself lodged in his glasses and his parents would take the gun away for his safety.  I was so bummed out when I got to this scene and they go pussy balls on us by making it just hit him in the cheek.  Huge letdown for me.  I’m sure the mom would still take the gun away for it because she didn’t want him to have it in the first place, but it got talked up far too much and I was really let down.  ::END SPOILER::

The performances were good, but very few people in this movie actually played likeable characters.  Peter Billingsley did a very good job as Ralphie.  He acted like a kid (mainly because he was one), but also had a couple of parts where he had to break into tears (both real and fake), and he did it very well.  Ian Petrella technically played his little brother very well, but I found him so irritating that I couldn’t enjoy his performance.  I thought their mom, played by Melinda Dillon, was a twat.  The actress did a good job in the performance, but the character seemed barely interested in Ralphie but thought Randy was the greatest, broke the lamp dad was so excited about because she was a bitch, and caused some innocent little boy to get the shit kicked out of him by his mom because she was too dumb to realize that Ralphie may have learned to curse from the dad that was semi constantly cursing.  I had no thoughts about the character of the dad, but Darren McGavin did a fine job with it.

Sadly, I may have lost a friend today by not being sold on A Christmas Story.  I found the story underwhelming and didn’t think any of it was particularly funny, the performances were good but the characters were mostly irritating, and the entire thing was narrated by a person I found annoying.  All this being said, I would still say it’s one of the better Christmas movies, but mainly because there’s not a lot of talent in that field.  I may well have found this movie amazing if I had watched it 28 years ago, but I didn’t.  Instead, I watched it when I was 28, and was not really interested.  The movie may also be hindered by the fact that it was a movie about kids, starring kids, and from a kid’s point of view, and I really don’t like kids.  I tend to find children 90% irritating and 10% cute, and usually only tolerable in small doses.  A Christmas Story gets “Oooh fuuudge” out of “It could be a bowling alley.”

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