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Entries in Couples Retreat [2009] (1)

Sunday
Feb282010

Couples Retreat, 2009 (Home Video Review)

Have I Got a Long Way to Run

Couples Retreat is a pretty terrible movie, but not for the reasons I’d suspected when I sat down to watch it the other night. I’d avoided it in theatres due to the negative word-of-mouth, but figured it was worth a rental. The best endorsement I can give is that you should wait for it to come on cable, and keep flipping channels.

The premise is sitcom-simple: four couples with varying degrees of marital troubles agree to vacation together at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort. Three of the four don’t realize that with the free drinks and massages come mandatory marriage counseling sessions and trust building exercises. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen the set-ups for all the gags: the buff yoga instructor with the inappropriate moves; the shark attack that Vince Vaughn blows out of proportion; the wacky marriage counselors. This is the Mad Libs of Hollywood studio comedies, except without the chuckles or edgy humor.

What’s interesting about Couples Retreat is that the first hour is kind of engaging. It fails as comedy, but the dialogue between the spouses sounds like real people working out real issues. It reminded me of a lighter version of another Vaughn film, The Breakup, which I loved for its willingness to challenge the audience by luring them in under the pretense of wacky comedy and then bombarding them with an occasionally funny but ultimately depressing look at modern relationships. There’s a sliver of that in Couples Retreat, but hour two is nothing but masturbation jokes and gay masseuse gags.

Another thing I found fascinating was that the cast all played one-dimensional stereotypes who, when combined together, actually formed one believably messed-up couple. It was like watching the John Cusack thriller Identity, except set in the tropics and (unfortunately) without all the killing. You’ve got the high school football hero and head cheerleader couple, living unhappily ever after; you’ve got the over-achieving power couple who prefer spreadsheets to bed sheets; you’ve got the older guy rebounding from a failed marriage with a party girl twenty years his junior; and you’ve got the normal couple with kids and mild communications issues. On second thought, forget what I said about believability. These folks are all cartoons.

The movie’s only selling point is the cast, but the script doesn’t serve them well at all. Watching Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in Swingers was a hilarious revelation of male bonding; here, they’re just doing bits and collecting paychecks. Kristen Bell was spunky and smart on the underrated TV show Veronica Mars. Couples Retreat reduces her to the neurotic shrew that can’t get pregnant. And Jason Bateman just revives his role from Hancock, which was a third-generation Xerox of his role on Arrested Development to begin with. The cast look like they’re having fun—and who wouldn’t, shooting a movie in paradise—but it’s more important that the audience enjoy themselves; otherwise you end up with movies like this and Ocean’s Twelve.

In the end, Couples Retreat is a joyless, silly waste of time. If you find the idea of Jean Reno popping up as the resort owner, prancing around in a Speedo and generally “being French” to be knee-slapping hilarity, then you’re just the rube this movie is aimed at. If, on the other hand, you’re offended and bored by easy cultural stereotypes and fictitious gender paradigms, you’ll want to look elsewhere for an evening of laughs.