The Couch Trip Review
The Couch Trip isn’t a film that stayed in public memory for very long after its release in 1988, despite its star cast, which would certainly suggest a below-par film. However, it is surprisingly good as a piece of feel-good entertainment, and Dan Aykroyd, Walter Matthau and Charles Grodin all get to flex their comedic muscles in roles that suit their onscreen personas.
Aykroyd is John Burns, a semi-looney, semi-I was in prison so acted crazy just to get into a psychiatric hospital type of guy, who under the care of Dr. Lawrence Baird (who according to Burns is an ‘ignorant, puffed up smidgen of blowfish shit’), has to come up with a plan to escape his clutches when he finds out the doctor is sending him for medical research testing. Intercepting a call to the doctor, Burns pretends to be Baird and accepts a job in California, hosting a radio show where callers call in with their personal problems. The job opportunity comes about because Dr. George Maitlin (Grodin), whose radio show it is, has to vacate the position because he has problems of his own, namely wanting to kill himself. Throw Matthau’s ‘listen, you can here the trees scream as they are cut down’, street-bum character into the mix, who wants a piece of Burns’ quickly sky-rocketing wealth, and you have yourself the ingredients for zany, madcap comedy.
The plot is hardly complex and acts more like a piece of rope for each gag and sketch to cling on to, than the basis of a story that has to be told. The undernourished themes such as the media’s obsession with people’s personal problems being used as entertainment under the guise of informative journalism, and the usual Hollywood clichés of neurosis, sleeping around, and everyone needing a shrink to help them through their day, including the shrinks themselves, scatter amongst the film but it ultimately boils down to the fact that this is Aykroyd’s show. Anybody, and anything which will help him milk a joke, is thrown into the mix to greater the laugh. Aykroyd is his wonderfully deadpan self throughout, and while the film as a whole doesn’t rate as one of his top stand-out’s, two or three scenes rank as some of the best comedy he has put to celluloid. One such scene has the ex-Saturday Night Live comic trying to cure a man of his sexual ailments over the phone with hilariously, failing consequences, and another has Burns taking his many patients to a L.A Dodgers baseball game, where they have to get on buses that have been designated to carry passengers with certain mental and physical problems. Having Aykroyd calling out ‘penis envy’ for bus number one, and hands up all ‘nymphomaniacs’, has to be seen to be believed.
While the film can’t quite sustain itself when Aykroyd isn’t on the screen the other players put in admirable turns, especially Grodin and Matthau. You can’t help but spit coffee all over the living room floor with shock-surprise laughter when Matthau slurs a spiel to Burns’ beautiful assistant, ‘I’m here because I’m desperately in love with you, I have been from the moment we met at the airport. I can tell I aroused an emotion in you, I knew it was only disgust but I can build on that. Will you marry me?’ with the straightest face you’ll ever see. Grodin, meanwhile, is breathlessly neurotic, and his wife Vera (Mary Gross) jitters with the low confidence of a woman whose married to a man who on his radio show, solves such problems as unhealthy sexual urges and premature ejaculation.
Director Michael Ritchie lets the actors do what they do best in the name of comedy but this can at times hinder their characterisation, with caricatures taking over. The two primary writers, Steven Kampmann and Will Porter have the comedy basis set but substitute substance for another Aykroyd set-piece and their satire, while for the most part very funny, misses the mark at times.
The Couch Trip is a funny film. Perhaps its biggest problem is that parts of it are worth revisiting time and time again, but as a whole it isn’t a comedy film that begs to be watched from production company logo minute one to copyright notice minute one hundred, fifty times a year like say This Is Spinal Tap, or Withnail and I, or The Big Lebowski. Instead, it’s enjoyable and hilarious at times, and certainly deserves at least one look.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. The picture is fairly good on the whole, displaying a genuine colour palette with skin tones appearing natural. The print is free of any excessive grain though it does lack a little clarity.
The sound is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0, and like many of MGM’s budget range of discs that lack a full 5.1 workout, it does feel a little too mono. Surround speakers are hardly used and while dialogue is clear, it isn’t well separated for surround purposes.
Theatrical Trailer - Presented in 16:9 anamorphic.
One of Dan Aykroyd’s vehicles that is worth seeing, MGM release the disc in its budget range of DVD’s.