Couples Retreat

© 2009 Ray Wong


Let's cut to the chase: the trailers of Couples Retreat look really funny. The end production isn't quite so.

p1Jason (Jason Bateman) and his wife Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are considering a divorce. They've been trying to conceive for over a year and that has put a strain on their relationship (not to mention Jason is a control freak). To try to mend their marriage, they've decided to go a world-renowned "couples retreat" called Eden somewhere in a tropical island. The problem is, in order for them to get the half-price rate, they have to convince their friends to go as a group.

p2Their friends include suburban mom and dad Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Marlin Akerman), recently divorced Shane (Faizon Love) and his 20-year-old girlfriend Trudy (Kali Hawk), plus Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) who are cheating on each other. The couples arrive on the island thinking they're just going to have a fun-filled week of vacation, but they're not ready for the "program" designed by Eden founder Marcel (Jean Reno).

p3It turns out that there's much to learn and improve in their respective relationships. Dave and Ronnie seem happy together, but being married with children has taken the fun out of their marriage. Shane can't get over his ex-wife (Tasha Smith) but he wants to please Trudy despite the huge age difference. Jason, meanwhile, is suffocating Cynthia. Joey and Lucy don't even want to see each other there -- they both try to have sex with other people. They must learn to communicate and figure out their relationship or else they must leave the island immediately. Lured by what the beautiful resort has to offer, they reluctantly stay.

p4The assemble cast mostly do their job, although the performances are either over the top or underwhelming. Vince Vaughn (Four Christmases) is fine playing the every man husband/father. His onscreen relationship with Malin Akerman (The Proposal) seems genuine and is one of the easiest-going, pleasant things of the film. Jason Bateman (The Invention of Lying) and Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) are cold together, which fits their onscreen relationship but makes the eventual reconciliation unconvincing. Jon Favreau (I Love You, Man) is quite funny as the man-pig and Kristin Davis (Sex and the City) is equally devious. Faizon Love (Of Boys and Men) is a big teddy bear but Kali Hawk (Holla) is irritating even if her character calls for it.

p5The supporting cast fares better with their minor but memorable role. Jean Reno (The Pink Panther 2) is delightful as the pretentious guru, Marcel. John Michael Higgins, Ken Jeong, Charlotte Cornwell and Amy Hill have interesting cameos as couple therapists. But the scene-stealer award goes to Carlos Ponce (Lipstick Jungle) as the yoga instructor Salvadore--his physical comedy coupled with his Latino-lover expressions is hilarious to watch.

p6Written by Swingers alums Vaughn and Favreau, plus Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas), the script has a forced premise to begin with. But let's just assume it's possible to pull six couples together for a week-long retreat without any advance notice, the execution can be summarized as "too much, yet too little." There's too much going on, but not enough time to spend on each of the six couples. In turn, the characters come off as two-dimensional, and honestly not very likable. For example, there's no reason to root for Jason and Cynthia because they have absolutely no chemistry together, and their relationship sounds more like a business partnership than a marriage. Joey and Lucy are both pigs -- they should have divorced years ago. Trudy is one of the most annoying characters I've ever seen.

p7The problem is, for a comedy, there just isn't a lot of laughs to go around. Amusing, yes, but not laugh out loud hilarious (except for a few scenes such as the yoga practice). Some of the scenes (such as the sharks and the single club) feel tedious and long. The ending is predictable, forced, and unconvincing. I, for one, would not believe these couples would resolve their problems so easily and quickly.

p0The direction by Peter Billingsley (The Sacred Fire) is spotty, and the pacing is off. There seems to be too much exposition and not enough plot or character development (although I blame that on the writers and not necessarily the director). Billingsley is unable to pull the mess of the script together into a coherent story. He misses the opportunity with a few wonderful moments that are underdeveloped. At times, I feel that Billingsley must be overwhelmed by the material, the settings (which are gorgeous, by the way -- makes me want to jump on a boat and go there), and the large cast of characters. The sexual humor doesn't go far enough (I understand the film was cut to avoid an original R rating), and the emotional content isn't quite there.

Couples Retreat is a failed attempt to do something outrageously funny and insightful, despite its talented cast and a out-of-the-world setting. I recommend a retreat from the theatre for this one.

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Krisen Bell, Kristin Davis, Kali Hawk, Tasha Smith, Carlos Ponce, Jean Reno
Director: Peter Billingsley
Writers: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Dana Fox
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language
Running Time: 107 Minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8

Total – 6.8 out of 10

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