by Mel Valentin
"Couples Retreat," a relationship comedy (minus, alas, the comedy) co-written by and starring Jon Favreau ("Iron Man I and II]", "Swingers") and Vince Vaughn ("Wedding Crashers," "Made," "Swingers"), could have (and probably should have) been retitled “The Unbearable Blandness of Being (Married).” Painfully predictable, unfunny, and, ultimately, unengaging on any level, "Couples Retreat" was obviously made on the strength of Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn’s names and reputations (for commercial success) and not on the intrinsic value of the undernourished screenplay Favreau and Vaughn wrote with Dana Fox or on neophyte director Peter Billingsley, best known for his performance in 1983’s "A Christmas Story") “vision” for the film.Couples Retreat centers on four near-middle-age couples: Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman), Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell), Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), and Shane (Faizon Love) and Trudy (Kali Hawk). Close to ten years into their marriage, Dave and Ronnie spend most of their time apart (when Dave’s working), raising their two sons, or remodeling their kitchen. Jason and Cynthia are at a crossroads. Despite years of effort, they’re still childless, their intimacy all-but-nonexistent. Joey and Lucy married straight out of high school and with their daughter off to college in the fall, they’re looking forward to going their separate ways and becoming single again. The recently divorced Shane still pines for his ex-wife, Jennifer (Tasha Smith), while dating the much younger, shallower Trudy.
"So bland, it's boring and dull and unengaging and..."
Jason and Cynthia decide to give their flagging relationship by spending their vacation at a tropical island resort that caters exclusively to couples. Unable to afford the vacation on their own, they convince the other couples to join them as part of a group package. At the island, the owner-guru, Marcel (Jean Reno), takes the couples through a series of Zen-lite exercises in enlightenment, introduces them to their over-oiled, longhaired, muscular yoga instructor, Salvadore (Carlos Ponce). The package also includes couples counseling every morning. Each couple reacts differently, from anger (Joey and Lucy), to denial (Dave and Ronnie), to boredom (Shane and Trudy), and over-excitement (Jason and Lucy). Not surprisingly, fissures appear in each relationship, exposing buried animosities, contradictions, and long-dormant conflicts.
If all that sounds like you’ve seen it before, it’s probably because you have or at least something similar to Couples Retreat. Favreau and Vaughan take every relationship cliché, every relationship drama convention, add a few wisecracks, pop culture references, and product whoring (Applebee’s, Starbucks, Guitar Hero, and Budweiser receive prominent verbiage or visual product placement), and call it a film. It’s not actually. It’s uninspired, play-it-safe-at-every-opportunity screenwriting (and filmmaking). As soon as we’re introduced to each couple, we know what’s troubling their marriages or relationships and where they’ll end up by the time the credits roll. The trailer hinted at actual (as opposed to imagined) infidelities with at least one couple, but studio-mandated reshoots earlier this year neutered that particular storyline.Given the cast involved, most of whom have worked in comedy before, there was some expectation that even if the film, standing on its own, or more accurately, standing on its screenplay, would be mediocre, at least moviegoers would receive a steady diet of humor (verbally and physically), but unfortunately that’s not the case. The actors hit their marks, say their (often unfunny lines), but with the exception of three or four scenes, energy and enthusiasm seems to be missing. Lines and pauses seem to linger (a mistake were comedy’s involved) and scenes last longer than they should and don’t often flow naturally into the next one. Blame, of course, starts with the screenplay, but it extends to Peter Billingsley’s pedestrian direction. "Couples Retreat" is probably an object lesson to writer-producers everywhere, especially those named Vince Vaughan: it’s rarely, if ever, a good idea to hire a longtime friend to direct one of your films.
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originally posted: 10/09/09 12:00:00