“Couples Retreat” is the most vanilla kind of comedy you can find in a non-family film. Its “edgy” jokes are tired to the point of a coma, it provides no challenge to its cast, and every minute of the movie feels four times as long as none of the four couples have any resonance or complication that can’t be overcome with a nice heart-to-heart. On top of all that you have product placement so tacky and completely without irony that I feel a more appropriate title would be “Guitar Hero and Applebee’s Present Couples Retreat”. Continued after the jump:
Troubled couple Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) need to save their marriage and there’s a luxurious resort called Eden which offers fun, sun, and couples counseling. Jason and Cynthia need to get a package deal and hard-sell their friends to come along but unintentionally misled to believe that the couples counseling is optional. But when they reach Eden, they discover that it’s work before play and each couple has to come to terms with the difficulties in their relationships that they’ve been ignoring.
However, each problem is so one-dimensional that it feels like it could be handled by an episode of “Dr. Phil” and “Dr. Phil” is awful. Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Veronica (Malin Akerman) think they’re happy but Veronica actually feels she’s comes second to Dave’s work. Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristen Davis) are waiting to get a divorce and are anxious to cheat on each other but they’re holding off on the divorce part until their daughter goes off to college. And Shane (Faizon Love) is suffering a mid-life crisis/rebound relationship as he dates an obnoxious 20-year-old named Trudy (Kali Hawk) he met at the mall. The Joey/Lucy and Shane/Trudy stories only slow the film down and if there’s any potential in these story arcs, it’s with Jason and Cynthia who don’t know how to stay together if they can’t have a baby (although they’re a hyper-organized, professionally successful couple so I don’t understand why adoption was out of the question) and Dave and Veronica who are taking each other for granted.
But even with a reduced cast, there’s just no reason for “Couples Retreat” to be a movie. It’s sitcom-level material of the “Two-and-a-Half Men” variety that’s intended to never challenge its audience and invoke predictable conflict, dull resolution, and jokes so old you want to stick them in a retirement community and never visit. Why should an audience pay $12.50 to see comedy that’s inferior to programs like “30 Rock” or even shows which still have laugh tracks like “How I Met Your Mother” or “The Big Bang Theory”? On top of all that, the product placement is obscene where there’s a “Guitar Hero” showdown and an important monologue centers on going to Applebee’s. But the most depressing thing about “Couples Retreat” is that the audience at my screening provided that laugh track for “Couples Retreat” and it becomes clear why a show like “30 Rock” had to fight to earn its audience while “Two-and-a-Half Men” remains the highest-rated comedy on television.
More frustrating is that this eight-member cast where each member has proved his or herself adept at comedy can barely elicit a laugh. Of course, there’s the always-reliable Jason Bateman and in a shorter film with fewer storylines, he could’ve carried the picture, but everyone else can’t seem to do anything fresh or even get a punchline. With the exception of Hawk, none of the female cast members get to be funny beyond Davis occasionally ogling a hot guy. But in the boys club (and again, Bateman not included) there isn’t much going on either. Vince Vaughn gets to do his shtick of fast-talking guy who knows the score but keeps getting into embarrassing situations which undermine his savvy. He’s good at it and you’ll love his performance provided you’ve never seen Vince Vaughn in a comedy before. The only big, non-Bateman laughs for me came from actors Peter Serafinowicz and Ken Jeong despite their minor roles. So if you were to take the scenes with Bateman, Serafinowicz, and Jeong, you would have an amusing short comedy. Instead you have a 107 minute movie that rolls into its third act with no end in sight and a conclusion so weak that writers Favreau, Vaughn, and Dana Fox have to end the movie with a variation of fart joke they used at the beginning of the film.
2009 has been a fantastic year for hard, R-rated comedy but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for a clever, hilarious film without swearing or tits (although both are always appreciated). “Couples Retreat” is just a lazy sitcom hoping to coast by on its talented cast despite never giving them material that elicits more than a brief chuckle.
Rating —– D minus