For a movie whose pre-release publicity revolved around the extent of Jennifer Aniston's nudity, it's somewhat fitting that Wanderlust goes t*ts up. It's an unfunny dud that suffers from a script that wanders aimlessly in search of gags but flounders frequently. An amiable cast and solid direction help to enliven proceedings, but nothing can overcome the stale premise and tedious dialogue that tries very hard to be funny.
The basic crux of the story is a spin on the tried and tested 'riches to rags' and 'fish out of water' themes, as Manhattan couple George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) are forced to ditch the city to find cheaper living after their careers hit the skids. Bereft of money, they end up living in a 'free love' commune - full of woefully contrived hippie stereotypes.
Before long, their spiritual leader Seth (Justin Theroux) tries to worm his way into Linda's affections and that unimaginative plot device of a big corporation plotting to bulldoze their land to build a casino is shoehorned into the movie. But just when you think the entire movie is a lost cause, out comes the big guns - a Ray Liotta cameo appearance as himself. Winning!
An absence of verbal or visual wit scuppers the attempts to milk the culture clash premise for laughter. The dialogue is so self-consciously trying to conjure up mirth that it proves to be irritating, particularly in the exchanges between the leading couple. There is nothing wrong with the portrayals by Aniston and Rudd nor is there an absence of chemistry between them, but they are simply done a huge disservice by the script.
For example, after moving into their commune accommodation and noticing their room has no door, George quips: "I'm glad we don't have a door. Doors are bulls**t," to which Linda mournfully replies: "I like doors." From the delivery and editing, it's clear that this is designed to be a joke. A pause is even left for the howls and hoots from the audience. But like many other similar exchanges in the film, it's totally cringeworthy and pure tumbleweed.
The supporting cast of hippies also grates, with over-familiar caricatures like Malin Akerman's free-loving floozy, who tries to seduce George by announcing: "I like you - we should make love sometime." Cue the predictable dramatic pause and stunned expression from the hapless object of her proposition. We've seen this all before. Then there's the clichéd nudist hippie, whose penis is probably the most authentic protagonist of the piece.
In all fairness, Justin Theroux is reasonably entertaining as the manipulative Seth, injecting energy into otherwise flaccid scenes despite him frequently spouting flower power spiritual guff and addressing people as "brother". Ken Marino also provides some much-needed comic relief as George's brother Rick, a politically incorrect philanderer with some major and funny anger management issues. However, the movie's positive aspects are hugely overshadowed by the general absence of engagement and amusement.
A blooper reel plays out over the end credits and shows the cast having plenty of laughs making Wanderlust. If only the same could be said of those who watched it...