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MGM seem to be the studio of choice when it comes to ‘80s quirky comedies, as their 2003 release schedule for back catalogue titles is populated with such material. This one, entitled The Couch Trip, boasts Dan Aykroyd and Walter Matthau in the lead roles – both actors I have come across before; and been impressed with their respective performances.

So will Michael Ritchie’s 1988 film float my boat, so to speak, or will it be another dud back catalogue title released by a money-grabbing studio in order to make a profit from consumers with a sense of misplaced nostalgia – or maybe, just maybe, will it be something more? Read on…

The Film
When asylum inmate John Burns (Aykroyd) intercepts a call to his psychiatrist, he brashly impersonates the good doctor. And he does such a good job that he is given an offer to fill in for a stressed-out Beverly Hills celebrity psychologist (Grodin) as the host of a call-in radio advice show. Escaping the hospital, Burns is soon gleefully crossing swords with his predecessor’s beautiful colleague (Dixon), crossing paths with a crafty crackpot (Matthau) and crossing the line into complete hilarity as his offbeat psychobabble takes ultra-trendy La-La Land by storm!

Couch Trip, The
The premise of The Couch Trip is relatively unique and promising, as it poses some possible identity mismatches, with potentially humorous consequences. So does it deliver? Well, refreshingly, yes it does – and it delivers with a fair bit of competence.

Script-wise it is fairly accomplished, with Burns’ character established from the off, who then proceeds to engage in various amusing set-pieces…all the while taking advantage of others and scamming them and society as a whole until it crumbles. So yes, that is how he manages to get himself out of the mental asylum!

Aykroyd is adequate in the lead role, with enough cocksure arrogance and wit to make his character believable. He also manages to share some good chemistry with Matthau (who, sadly, has since passed away) and together they become a Laurel and Hardy of sorts.

Direction in this type of film is hardly something that will make or break it, so this ain’t a Fincher outing of epic technical achievement and groundbreaking visuals. But, Ritchie (no, not the Guy version who started off with greatness – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – before descending into badness with Madonna and Swept Away; this is the Michael version) manages to keep things ticking over nicely, pointing and shooting just what is required and not making unnecessary decisions when it comes to camerawork or dodgy helming techniques.

But, understandably, there are some flaws. And the flaws come with not mistakes in the film per se, but instead the things that have been missed out. If a few more things had been included, and a bit more spark, then this could have been a very enjoyable and rewatchable comedy. As it stands, it is a watchable comedy, but lacks something that could have made it essential. Not bad, mind.

Couch Trip, The
Video
Presented in the MGM back catalogue standard of 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, it does what it needs to, without sacrificing quality. In fact, the transfer is as good as most modern-day releases, with no visible dust or grain, and a thankful absence of compression signs of any kind.

Audio
Again, the MGM standard is here on this disc – Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, French, German & Spanish). The soundstage lacks a punch that defines a 5.1 mix (or better), but the soundtracks are crisp and clear throughout with good clarity and ambience levels. Passable, but could have been better: namely a 5.1 surround sound mix, or failing that, even a 2.0 surround mix.

Extras
The only extra on offer is a measly theatrical trailer, which is a standard – uninspiring – affair. Once again my thanks go to MGM for serving an extra of such calibre to us consumers…

The menus are static, but easy to navigate.

Overall
Some people no doubt enjoyed this at the time of its release, and that in their eyes won’t have faded – I can see it remaining a passable and accomplished comedy a decade down the line. It may not be great, it may not be very good, but it certainly is good: and worth a watch.

Couch Trip, The
Granted, there are plenty of other comedies – whether released since or before – that are better, but if this is ever in a bargain bin or sitting on the shelf in your local DVD rental shop, then go for it…especially if you are an Aykroyd or Matthau fan.

The disc itself is nothing to shout from the rooftops about, but the presentation is quite good (the video being the superior of the two, for sure), yet the extras let the overall package down somewhat. However, it remains one of the better MGM back catalogue titles that I have seen.


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