'Couples Retreat': Jon Favreau puts on his chastity belt
UPDATE: After talking to a couple of rival studio marketers today, I think I may have been a little tough on the opening weekend prospects for "Couples Retreat." They say the movie could easily open in the $24 to $27 million range, which considering its mid-range budget, wouldn't be a bad number at all. So I have may spoken too soon. It won't be the first time--or the last.
Judging from the tracking numbers for "Couples Retreat," the Vince Vaughn comedy opening this weekend, Universal Pictures may be having its share of problems persuading moviegoers to rush out to see a film about four couples working out their marriage issues on a Club Med-style vacation at a tropical island retreat. But according to Movieline's Kyle Buchanan, the studio has apparently already toned down the marital issues part of the movie, cutting out a subplot involving Jon Favreau, ahem, vigorously cheating on his wife with a restaurant waitress.
If you watch the movie's first trailer, which has been up on line for months -- and I have to admit, it did a pretty good job of discouraging me from rushing out to see the movie -- it clearly establishes the Favreau infidelity storyline. Or as Buchanan describes it in blogger-ese: "This is one of the lead characters of a big mainstream comedy, and he's picking up some floozy over hot wings and [having sex with] her in the restaurant bathroom."
But after seeing the film at a recent screening, Buchanan reports that "all those scenes of infidelity in the trailer [including Favreau's wife, Kristin Davis' own fling with her personal trainer] have been cut from the film. ... Both Favreau and Davis still have wandering eyes in the film, but temptation is the couple's main problem rather than onscreen cheating."
What happened? I couldn't get much of an answer from Universal's marketing team, since the studio is in a bit of disarray this week, having fired chairman Marc Shmuger and replaced him with Adam Fogelson, the studio's marketing chief. Fogelson is a gifted marketer, but his campaign for "Couples Retreat" is clearly not the one that will someday get him ushered into the marketing Hall of Fame. The obvious assumption? When the studio tested the movie, research audiences, especially women, were so put off by seeing one of the film's most likable characters blithely cheating on his wife that the studio persuaded the filmmakers to cut it out of the movie.
The Universal executive I spoke to argued that just because the filmmakers shot a sequence didn't mean they had always intended to keep it in the film. But I argued in return that if you weren't sure whether a sequence belonged in the movie, then why put it in the trailer where it would firmly establish, in potential moviegoer's minds, the low-life tendencies of one of your film's key characters?
Judging from the early reviews -- "Couples" has scored a lowly eight at Rotten Tomatoes -- comedy fans won't be forced to debate this issue for long. As the Baltimore Sun's Michael Sragow put it in his review, the film "finds it as impossible to locate a laugh in glittering Bora Bora as it was for Operation Enduring Freedom to nail Osama Bin Laden in gritty Tora Bora." In other words, Ouch!
Here's the original trailer with Favreau, as the song goes, looking for love in all the wrong places:
Photo (from left) of Jon Favreau, Malin Ackerman, Vince Vaughn, Faizon Love and Kristen Davis in "Couples Retreat" by John Johnson/Universal Pictures.