Peter Billingsly’s feature debut with screenwriting stars and duo Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau have created a relationship comedy that has a number of interesting points on couples, but really lacks a lot of good humor and drags at a miserable pace for the last forty five minutes or so.
Dave, Jason, Shane, and Joey are a group of four friends and their respective significant others Ronnie, Cynthia, Trudy, Lucy are all going through varying stages of their relationships. Lucy and Joey are on the verge of divorce once their daughter heads off to school, Trudy and Shane are a young couple (two weeks) and Shane still isn’t over his divorce, Dave and Ronnie are fairly content in their lives, and Jason and Cynthia are having problems conceiving. Jason and Cynthia are also contemplating divorce as the stress of the lack of baby making is wearing thin and as a last ditch effort they decide to go on a couples getaway and want their friends to go with them as it gets them a discount rate. After a bit of convincing they are all off to Eden West, and before they know it they are unsuspectingly thrown into couple’s therapy activities under the tutelage of an expert on repairing relationship, Marcel. From here, everyone’s relationships get a bit turned all around, stretched thin, and problems arise as they go through zany exercises and sessions to supposedly help their relationships.
Now, the film starts off pretty well and I will admit that I am a big fan of Vaughn, Favreau, Bateman and they are quite good to start things off. Though as things progress forward the trio is given less ability to riff and kind of improvise which these guys are pretty great at and the film gets bogged down in a boring and pointless plot. The idea behind it all is actually quite clever and they couldn’t have assembled a better cast for the picture. The problem is that Vaughn, Favreau, and Dana Fox who wrote the film fall into stereotypes, convention, and old gags that we have seen time and time again. They give themselves a premise that allows them to rewrite the rules and go just about anywhere with this revolutionary couple’s therapy but they just stick to jokes we have seen before. Also, the films third act is just an absolute mess and drags on and on with things getting resolved way, way, way to easily for everyone. Also, don’t put a 3-5 minute Guitar Hero duel in your movie, it might be a blast to play at home but nobody wants to go to a movie and watch someone play guitar hero, no matter how you edit it.
The films tone is also a bit of an issue as it jumps from serious to farce from scene to scene. Now, I am all for trying to create this balance and when films do it, it usually works great, but they do not execute here. Now, that isn’t to say that they didn’t have some nice and well thought out serious moments about relationships and what you have to do to survive, but when in one scene one of the women walks out on their mate and then the next you are trying to get the humor back with the fore mentioned Guitar Hero dual, doesn’t really work.
The actors in the film also do fair enough work thee just isn’t a lot for them to do most of the time. Bateman and Vaughn produce the most laughs in the picture though after the first few scenes, these start to become few and far between. Jean Reno is having a blast as Marcel but his character quickly loses depth and we grow tired. Kristin Davis and Kristen Bell are both regulated to the background and given very little to do, but Malin Ackerman does a nice job as the female lead and feels genuine in her character. Faizon Love was actually quite good in the film as well, showing a surprising amount of range as he was in the most dynamic relationship of the group as Shane. All in all no one really under-performs, they just get underwritten.
In the end, Couples Retreat is more or less a mis-fire on all levels. A meandering plot, sluggish pacing, and a lack of any real original humor really keep this interesting concept from being anything more than average at best. Bateman does have one of the best one liners of the year and Vaughn and Ackerman’s younger kid in the film, Colin Baiocchi, steals every scene he is in, but other than that it’s a lot of stuff you have seen before. It’s a shame to, as Vaughn hasn’t made a good movie in which he leads in years now especially when there was such potential with the team and cast behind this one. Oh well, but I can’t really recommend this picture in theaters; a rental at best.