Couples Retreat – Review

couples_retreat

Director: Peter Billingsley
Notable Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Jean Reno, John Michael Higgins, Ken Jeong

You know it’s a bad sign when a relationship comedy begins with a toddler peeing the bed. Infantile humor is generally seen as a last resort to gain laughs, but for Couples Retreat it’s the very first joke. If we didn’t laugh the first time, director Peter Billingsley (yes, little Ralphie Parker from A Christmas Story) regurgitates a variation of the joke when the toddler decides to pee in a showroom toilet at a Home Depot. How nice. Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau used to be “so money.” But it’s not 1996 anymore.

Vaughn continues to milk his comedy shtick for laughs, while Favreau has become a star director, last year helming the second-highest grossing film in the U.S., Iron Man. Before the red-and-gold superhero leapt onto the silver screen, Favreau was working on a script about four troubled couples who venture to an island paradise to solve their marital problems.

Sounds like somebody wanted some rest and relaxation and make some money at the same time. Since Vaughn and Favreau wrote the screenplay, with contributions by What Happens in Vegas scribe Dana Fox (uh-oh) and had a good friend in the director’s chair, the marriage-renewal comedy is unfocussed. Billingsley’s inexperience as a filmmaker permeates every scene. Gags start out strong only to weaken. Music will upswing to bring emotionality to a moment where a character laments a fear of losing that lovin’ feeling. (Get Maverick and Goose on the double!) And it has one of the most egregious uses of product placement I’ve seen in ages.

A real shame, because it has a fun ensemble and a premise that seems loaded with laughs. Other than a chiseled, Speedo-wearing yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce) performing tantric humping on bored, unfulfilled housewives, the movie is free of laughs for most of its duration.

Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are nearing a divorce, mostly to due to Jason’s controlling nature and her inability to conceive. Their friends, all couples, have their own set of problems. Parenting duties conflict with romance for Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman). Joey (Favreau) has a wandering eye, because he’s never played the field. He married his high-school sweetheart, Lucy (Kristin Davis), and she as well has become bored with marriage. Shane (Faizon Love) and Trudy (Kali Hawk) is a band-aid relationship. Shane, recently divorced and pushing forty, hooks up with a 20-year-old who is too much of a firecracker for him to handle.

The couples not contemplating the “D” word are relatively happy with the occasional disagreement, but Jason and Cynthia beg and plead for them to join them for a week at Eden Resorts (Bora Bora by another name), an island getaway that promises sun-drenched fun along with couples skillbuilding. How bad could it be?

Try very.

Couples Retreat may not be the worst comedy I’ve seen this year, but it offers little in the way of inspired laughs. It’s poorly written and lacks emphasis on relationships. The characters act as illustrations of their problems – just a bunch of guys and gals standing around, shooting off one-liners and yelling at each other. Sensibility is the understudy to ignorance. We’re supposed to laugh at their faults, but more often we sit silent.

Eden Resorts is actually two different resorts. East Eden is for singles looking for sex (and maybe love, too). West Eden is to rekindle love in a relationship where the flame is all but extinguished. This resort is built up to be the last bastion for saving a marriage, yet the only troubled couples on the island are these four. Eden manager Cstanley (Peter Serafinowicz) explains that there’s a long waiting list to come to the resort. Yet, the question of what’s with all the unused bungalows is not asked. I guess I just did.

Of the cast, Jason Bateman plays the anal neurotic character trait to a tee and Vince Vaughn nails those rapid-fire quips and snarky remarks that were a highlight in Wedding Crashers. The rest of the cast is just there to spend a month in Bora Bora.

When we arrive at the moment where Cynthia is at her wit’s end with Jason, the movie goes through the motions as it reaches a saccharine-sweet resolution. It all plays out on East Eden, with full regalia of dancing, cavorting and Guitar Hero. And whenever there’s lively music and a bonfire, you just know a happy conclusion isn’t far off.

If that jovial fest isn’t enough to leave on a high note, Billingsley adds one more zinger: the toddler returns to Home Depot, this time to poop in the toilet.

FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):

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