Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell
Directed by: Peter Billingsley (debut)
Written by: Vince Vaughn (debut), Jon Favreau (“Swingers”), Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”)
Pack light. “Couples Retreat” might seem like an island paradise at first glance, but the star-powered date movie quickly turns into something as enjoyable as the most annoying parts of a free timeshare vacation.
Directed by Peter Billingsley (he played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”), “Couples Retreat” is not the kind of comedy anyone should take their fiancé (or fiancée) to if they plan to keep the thought of marriage positive before the big day. With so many unlikeable and featureless characters and a script that reads like a fall TV sitcom begging to get axed after six episodes, “Retreat” recoils into childish and repetitive jokes, character clichés (Carlos Ponce steals Hank Azaria’s role from “Along Came Polly” and plays a macho womanizer) and a whole lot of unfunny foolishness.
Basically, the film capsizes right from the start. Married couple Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) are thinking about getting a divorce. They’ve weighed all the pros and cons of splitting up, but don’t think they can come to a conscious decision unless they make one last effort by going to a tropical island resort where they can spend quality time with each other and get some much-needed marriage counseling.
Problem is, Jason and Cynthia can’t afford the trip on their own (here’s an idea: plan a cheaper trip), so they ask their friends to go with them so they can take advantage of the group rate. It takes some groveling on Jason’s part, but before anyone can say Beach Blanket Bingo Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman), Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis), and Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) are getting off an airplane at a destination described as “Disneyland for adults.”
But what is supposed to be a fun-filled week for a majority of the group becomes a dreaded marathon of couple-building exercises when relationship guru Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno) makes everyone wake up a the crack of dawn to talk about their feelings and participate in other nonsensical icebreakers (who knew throwing bloody chum at sharks could save a marriage!).
Each couple has their specific problems, but none of them are of much significance in the hands of screenwriters Favreau, Vaughn, and Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”). What the writing trio identifies with the most isn’t the deep-seeded problems of a broken relationship, but instead how far they can push their couples (and the audience) to the brink of boredom.
The funniest scene of the movie comes when the men are discussing whether or not thinking about other women while having sex with your wife should be considered cheating. It’s not a groundbreaking joke or anything, but the guys refer to it as a personal “highlight reel” (the best sexual experiences of one’s life), which is fairly clever in terms of sports metaphors. A few misplaced chuckles, however, don’t make up for the movie’s major limitations.
“When you’re married, love is having someone to go to Applebee’s with,” Vaughn’s Dave proclaims by the end of the movie. It might sound like the same kind of cute gibberish you would hear someone like actor Michael Cera deliver in a romantic comedy, but something about “Couples Retreat” makes us think all the characters involved are just dense enough to believe it.