The escaped delinquent John W. Burns, Jr. replaces Dr. Maitlin on a radio show, saying he's the psychiatrist Lawrence Baird. His tactless radio show is a hit, and he becomes very popular. But then Dr. Maitlin meets the real Dr. Lawrence Baird at a congress in London...
I admit that I've never been a fan of Dan Aykroyd, though some of his movies have been massively entertaining thanks to co-starring talents like Eddie Murphy, John Candy, John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. I just never found him funny or even amusing, even during his 'SNL' years. A recent viewing of 'The Couch Trip' further confirms my opinion that he is simply not leading man material when it comes to comedies. Then again, otherwise talented actors like Charles Grodin and Walter Matthau fail just as badly in this stilted and amateurish farce, which tries to send-up psychiatry and celebrity with dreadful results. Based on the final product, the box office failure of this film back in 1989 is completely understandable and deserved.
Dan Aykroyd play John Burns, a con-man and convict who has managed to finagle his way into a mental hospital to avoid harsher treatment in prison. The institution is headed by Dr. Lawrence Baird, played broadly by David Glennon, who also serves as Burns's arch nemesis. Charles Grodin chews up the scenery as celebrity psychologist George Maitlin, a self-absorbed egoist who goes on sabbatical and is need of temporary substitute for his Hollywood practice and radio show. Naturally, Burns assumes the role of Maitlin's replacement, dishing out frank and vulgar advice which earns him an immediate fan-following. He becomes the subject of great public acclaim and popularity, big enough for lawyers and opportunists to want to capitalize on his appeal. Meanwhile, both Doctors Baird and Maitlin discover Burns's phony act, and go after him with a vengeance. The last third of the movie devolves into multiple interpersonal conflicts and one physical chase after another.
Along the way, we are introduced to cheating spouses (Mary Gross, as the wife of Dr. Maitlin, cheats on her husband just as he has on her), crooked attorneys, traitrous secretaries (Victoria Jackson, yet another former SNL cast member), and double crosses. The slapstick action includes clumsy assaults on characters due to mistaken identity, and police chases due to characters acting outrageously. And yet, despite all the confusion and chaos, the movie trudges on lifelessly with broad and unlikable characters, and a story so stale that it could have been written by an robot. What could have been a satire on 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' simply ends up as a lame sitcom. Even worse, most of the dialogue is so bereft of cleverness and wit, particularly between Grodin and Gross as husband and wife, that one wonders if it was meant to be comedic in the first place. During such scenes, I kept speculating on how much silence must have filled the theaters when it was initially released. It also does not help that the music score by The Canadian Brass tries to add obvious whimsy to otherwise expressionless scenes, which only makes the "funny" moments that much more awkward.
Other characters in the film take up a lot of screentime, but are barely worth mentioning. Donna Dixon (Aykroyd's real-life wife) plays another doctor who for whatever reason acts primarily as Maitlin's assistant. She is there for the obvious eye-candy (and there's nothing wrong with that), as her role is neither necessary nor useful. Walter Matthau plays Donald Becker, a disgraced priest who teams up with Burns in this con, but really has no other purpose in the movie. In fact, his presence bogs down an already lethargic plot, especially since there is no chemistry between his character and Burns, and because Becker's general eccentricities (he is an admitted kleptomaniac, and has strange eating habits like eating jelly out of doughnuts with a straw) amount to nothing significant.
Speaking of dull, the movie's R-rating is basically due to a few overt profanities which don't add any element of daring or edge to the film, even though the field of psychology could be ripe for plenty of sophisticated laughs. There are reference to some specific anatomic regions and sexual behavior, but they are mentioned in the most juvenile of contexts. Remove a few of the verbal offenses, and this movie could easily have for 1990's network television.
As for the main character himself, Burns is neither energetic nor charismatic enough to hold a viewer's interest in his story, so his rise to fame in the context of the movie is equally inconceivable. Aykroyd smirks and blusters as much as he can, but his lack of subtle facial expressions and lifeless voice fail to give his character distinction. Without a solid protagonist, the movie can't sustain the weak material.
Finally, it should be noted that Chevy Chase does make a short and almost unnoticeable cameo appearance within a TV commercial. I am in no way a fan of Mr. Chase (George Roy Hill's 'Funny Farm' being the major exception), but it was my meager hope that a prolonged appearance would inject some kind of spark into this dying film. Where's 'Fletch' when you need him?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats:
'The Couch Trip' is presented by Kino Lorber on a single platter, 25 GB disc. It's packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with no booklet or any other physical materials. The theatrical one-sheet is adapted for the front cover. However, the back cover does contain an image of a scene not found in the film, nor in any of the bonus materials.
'The Couch Trip' is presented in AVC-encoded, 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Visually, the picture looks darn good for a nearly thirty year old, mid-budgeted comedy. Colors are accurate and natural, and the overall look is appropriate for a movie driven by dialogue instead of visuals.
Artifacts and print damage are noticeable at the beginning of the film, but do not distract the viewing experience. Image quality can be inconsistent in several scenes, with obvious soft focusing on the women including Mary Gross and Donna Dixon. The natural grain structure is kept intact, and bright, outdoor scenes look excellent. However, night scenes exhibit more than a few moments of crushed blacks and weak colors, though details are kept intact. While it does not appear as though the movie was restored in any significant way, I doubt anyone would complain with how well this Blu-ray was mastered.
'The Couch Trip' is presented in stereo sound, with clear and intelligble dialogue but with limited dynamic range. Spearation between the two-channels are likewise unremarkable, with occasional directionality when it comes to ambient effects. Even with scenes involving gunshots, police cars and helicopters, there is a lack of bass and low-end information. The score by The Canadian Brass, however, can be heard distinctively. Simply put, a decent soundbar should be more than enough to take advantage of the middling soundtrack.
The Blu-ray is also closed-captioned in English subtitles, with heavy paraphrasing throughout. Many of the profanities are left out, with the strange exception of specific "F"-bombs.
For fans of the film, the Blu-ray edition of 'The Couch Trip' has quite a few supplemental sections which make it very much worth the upgrade over MGM's original, barebones DVD release. All are presented in 720p high definition from a standard definition souce, with two-channel audio.
Making-of Featurette (7:13): As a general overview of the film, this short video is just a superficial promotion for the movie, and does not go in-depth as to any elements or characters in the picture.
Dan Aykroyd Profile (3:05): Though the focus is on Mr. Aykroyd, not much is stated outside of his work on this film. Clips of the movie are shown, with some comments from Director Richie about Akroyd's talents, but the whole thing ends abruptly and meaninglessly.
Selected B-Rolls (4:33): These are extended behind-the-scenes segments from the film, mostly improvised and often meandering.
News Wrap "Team Comedy" Featurette (2:26): The focus here is on Dan Aykroyd and his working relationship with wife Donna Dixon. Not much is stated to make it rise above your standard Hollywood puff piece.
Selected Sound Bites (3:36): This is random set of clips from Akroyd, Matthau, Dixon and Richie commenting on the film, and the craft of comedy in general.
While the number of supplemental materials are appreciated, one wonders why all these clips simply couldn't have been compiled into a single "Behind the Scenes" featurette. The lack of depth in each topic make some of the footage indistinguishable from the rest. It's really no surprise that the supplements here do very little to arouse interest in the movie itself.
It's also apparent that based on the end dialogue and the picture on the back of the Blu-ray package, that at least one deleted scene probably exists where our hero ends up on a yacht with some buxom beauties. Whether such scenes may have helped or hurt the movie, I guess we'll never know.
Trailer for 'The Couch Trip' (1:14) and 'Diggstown' (2:28) - These previews are presented in widescreen and obviously sourced from well-worn prints.
Apparently, 'The Couch Trip' is based on a 1972 novel which I assume must be more interesting that what is translated to celluloid. Director Michael Ritchie has had success in the past with various comedies including 'The Bad News Bears,' 'Fletch,' and 'The Golden Child' (which I really enjoyed despite it's critical lambasting), and certainly Dan Aykroyd has been better in movies like 'Driving Miss Daisy' and in 'My Girl'. However, 'The Couch Trip' is a serious misfire and a movie I could not muster the strength to see again.