John W. Burns (Dan Aykroyd) was transferred from a prison to this high security mental hospital after persuading the authorities he was insane, and he has been treated there ever since, though the chief psychiatrist, Dr Lawrence Baird (David Clennon), is extremely sceptical whether he deserves to be there at all. In fact, he thinks Burns is a fraud and is going to do everything in his power to get him to serve out his sentence (for computer hacking theft) back in jail, but Burns is far more wily than he realises, though the way he carries on an affair with one of the staff (Victoria Jackson) behind everyone's back and is better at handling the patients than Baird does not endear him to the doctors or orderlies. Then opportunity knocks...
By the time he made The Couch Trip, director Michael Ritchie had seen his status as one of the keenest observers in Hollywood comedy come undone with a string of flops, and this was no exception. It is difficult to say why talented filmmakers can see their success run out, never mind their luck, but that's what happened to a man who had made some of the most memorable and sharply handled movies of the seventies, and while Fletch with Chevy Chase has been a hit, after that it was downhill all the way. Fortunately, he proved he could still come up with the goods artistically later on with boxing comedy Diggstown; mind you, that wasn't a hit either, no matter its quality.
Where did that leave this little item? Largely unloved and stuck in late night television schedules thanks to its language and occasional frank sex talk, though there were those who caught it there and wondered why it hadn't been a bigger deal, it had a talented cast after all, and conman comedies rarely go out of fashion. It could have been miscasting, as Aykroyd was essaying a role better suited to Chevy Chase, who had been Ritchie's Fletch (and appeared in a cameo on a TV commercial), so while he got to put across some of his trademark knack for fast talking and complicated dialogue, you kept seeing his old Saturday Night Live colleague Chase in the part and pondering what might have been.
That said, you could not argue with Aykroyd's love interest here as she was the actual Mrs Aykroyd, Donna Dixon, so you would like to think they were convincing as compatible partners, no matter that the film itself seemed to be wondering what she could possibly see in him as well. Burns' smooth way with inveigling his way into others' lives sees him trick his way into posing as Baird to replace a popular radio psychiatrist who has had a nervous breakdown and is recuperating in London. That he was played by Charles Grodin may have had comedy fans salivating at the prospect of seeing him and Aykroyd trade barbs and play off one another, yet perversely the script refused to so much as place them in the same scene until the movie was to all intents and purposes over, and even then only briefly.
There was some compensation as the highest profile supporting actor in a cast who were by no means disappointing, largely seasoned comedy professionals all, was Walter Matthau who was a panhandler at the airport and quite possibly genuinely ill, though it was a symptom of the tone that the film was happier to endorse the conman out to make as much money as he could than it was the mental health industry who would presumably be the best people to go to for treatment had this in any way been realistic. Call it a hangover from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where psychiatrists are seen to be doing more harm than good, then muse over whether that attitude in popular (or trying to be popular) culture was in any way helpful. Anyway, it's not as if The Couch Trip was taking itself seriously as a valid representation of the real issues, it was just having some smart Alec fun with this as a background and the real humour stemmed from how much Burns as Baird could get away with. It just failed to include much wit that would have rescued it from very minor acclaim. Brass music by Michel Colombier.
American director, from television, whose films of the 1970s showed an interesting, sardonic take on America. After sour skiing drama Downhill Racer, he had an unhappy experience on the bizarre Prime Cut before a run of acclaimed movies: political satire The Candidate, the excellent Smile, coarse comedy The Bad News Bears, and another sporting comedy Semi-Tough.