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Review

‘Couples Retreat’ lacks depth

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October 15, 2009

It is fitting that “Couples Retreat” begins with a toddler peeing in a store toilet, and ends with that same youth pooping in that same store toilet just before credits roll. On the surface, a film that revolves around emotionally bankrupt adults undergoing relationship therapy on a tropical island paradise seems like a good idea, or at least a passable one. But the unfortunate end result is nothing more than a juvenile bowel movement that deserves little more than to be flushed from cinematic memory.

It almost defies conventions that Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau—the immortalized Swingers themselves—could have penned this mirthless mess, and director Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”) seems far too distracted by the “screensaver” visuals to keep this sloppy soap opera from floundering.

The plot overblown to fit a very long two hours centers around four married couples, three of whom believe themselves to be reasonably happy, until the fourth (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) convince them to all go on a week-long couples retreat (if four couples go, it’s half price).

Duped by the promise of R&R, each couple reluctantly accepts, only to discover that they all actually do have problems. Jason (Bateman) and Cynthia (Bell) are anguished because they can’t have a child; Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) have lost their lustful fire in the wake of parental responsibilities; Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) are drifting apart thanks to mutual infidelity; and

Shane (Faizon Love), still reeling from a bitter divorce, brings his 20-year old fling Trudy (Kali Hawk), who wants nothing more than a meal ticket and good time.

The island, Eden West, promises to fix all of that thanks to mastermind Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno), self-proclaimed couples whisperer.

The set-up is a familiar one, and could possibly have supported some distracting hilarity, but opts instead to walk the path of a trashy and washed-up sitcom. It is almost painful how obediently the third act of the film marches through age-old conventions. The couples, stressed to the point of fracture, all reach a cathartic transitional point; the females resolve to get drunk and dance, while the guys, who
must rally to fix the crisis, really just stand there and exchange stilted “bonding” dialogue. The ensuing confessions and artificial revelations act as an obligatory dénouement, perfectly gift-wrapping a contrived happy-feeling ending that betrays the film’s utter lack of character depth.

To say that the film is completely devoid of humor would be a misnomer, however. Among the few good things, I would count Vaughn’s often sharp and sardonic dialogue, delivered with irreverent alacrity.

But these moments are lost among too many unsightly sight gags, such as Favreau’s boner during a massage or his reaching for lotion and tissues while his wife showers-jokes that are just too tired and worn out to carry the burden of the plot.

The movie was filmed on location in Bora Bora-which may be the only rationale why actors and actresses of this caliber are in the film-but this enchanted island is reduced down to its most basic banality. In the end, your movie ticket will be little more than a fee to recoup the cost of sending some otherwise talented actors on vacation. A vacation you’re not invited to.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.