Mark Reviews Movies

COUPLES RETREAT

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Billingsley

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Kali Hawk, Peter Serafinowicz, Jean Reno, Carlos Ponce

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 10/9/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik

When it's actually mining the comic potential within its premise, Couples Retreat is pretty funny. The problem is the movie doesn't have either the guts or wherewithal to follow through with the humor and stick to its setup.

The conflict the movie presents is between a touchy-feely type of couples' resort that focuses on therapy instead of the fun stuff and four couples who don't like the touchy-feely and would rather do the fun stuff. It might not be gold, but there is promise, which the movie eventually starts to fulfill and soon after abandons.

The four couples are basic caricature types. Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman), who have two kids, never got to go on their honeymoon, and think they're making it just fine and dandy. Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis) are high school sweethearts who got pregnant and now fight about mild things when they aren't looking at other potential partners. Shane (Fazion Love) is still having a hard time with his divorce and tries to make up for it by dating Trudy (Kali Hawk), a 20-year-old party girl who calls Shane "daddy," much to his chagrin.

The last couple is Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell), an analytical, anal pair who find it easiest to communicate with their friends via a computer presentation program. They announce they're seriously considering a divorce and that the couples' resort Eden holds the key to finding out if they should stay together or not.

The first act of the movie is unnecessarily drawn out. There are a series of introductory moments for the characters, and once Jason and Cynthia's plan comes to light, it drags out Dave and Ronnie's decision about whether or not to go to no effect. Jason breaks in to the house late at night, Dave pulls a gun on what he believes an intruder, and the kids come downstairs to tell their parents to go. They're already called grandpa to watch them.

It's a weak delay—an attempt to gather more material than is present—and that mentality does come up again in Favreau, Vaughn, and Dana Fox's screenplay.

Fortunately, the four couples do arrive at Eden, only to quickly discover that all the fun stuff is happening on a singles' island resort across the way. On this island of Eden, Stanley (Peter Serafinowicz), the resort's maître d' whose name is somehow spelt with a "c,," tells them, it's all about healing. The appearance of Serafinowicz signals the movie's first moment of going along with the premise, and he gets a lot of mileage out of his brief moments on screen. That is until, of course, the script doesn't know what to do with the character anymore.

The retreat is run by Marcel (Jean Reno), a couples' therapy guru whose diverse background training includes the art of war, and he has some unique opportunities for them. Reno is also amusing here, and his exercises give the movie a much-needed comic backbone.

He has each them line up, appear nearly naked in front of their partner, and tell something honest about their counterpart, which leads to some awkward compliments from Jason. I suppose I should mention that Bateman takes over every scene he's in with his pitch-perfect, nicely timed delivery.

Marcel also has them take an excursion with sharks, which builds with just the right momentum, leaving Dave in a potentially dangerous situation (surrounded by blood and sharks) as Marcel shouts frantic orders. There's an entertaining scene with an enthusiastic yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce) that's an example of how you can do obvious physical comedy well. The therapy scenes work as well as possible, especially between Dave, Ronnie and their therapist (John Michael Higgins) and Jason's controlling tone with theirs (Ken Jeong).

Director Peter Billingsley keeps these premise-focused jokes paced well, but the movie begins to fall apart just as it finds its stride. The couples predictably begin bickering, leading to a massive separation and visit to the other island. Suddenly, Stanley becomes Dave's rival in a lame Guitar Hero battle, and the yoga instructor becomes the third wheel between Joey and Lucy.

Couples Retreat is all sitcom trappings, although the middle section in which it concentrates on the possibility of its premise works more than it should. That, though, does not compensate for the clunky opening and the even clunkier ways it builds to its climax and resolution.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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