Retreat from 'Couples Retreat'

Article Published: Oct. 19, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Retreat from 'Couples Retreat'

Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Kristin Davis, Faizon Love, Malin Akerman and Kali Hawk star in The Olive Garden, err, 'Couples Retreat.'

If you haven't long to live, see Couples Retreat. It makes 107 minutes seem like an eternity.
But the atrocious new romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor a comedy managed to date-night its way to No. 1 at this weekend's box office, toppling Zombieland, which, for a film about flesh-eating undead monsters, has considerably more life.

Couples Retreat treats its audience like zombies, offering a mindless, hackneyed story that was bafflingly written by funnymen Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers) and Jon Favreau (Swingers) and relative newcomer Dana Fox (The Wedding Date).

Starring Vaughn and Favreau, whose memorable duo in 1996's Swingers (also penned by Favreau) managed to spawn a whole new vernacular, Couples seems more like the anti-Swingers, brimming with dull, cliched characters played by more-than-able actors stuck in a joyless, paint-by-numbers plot.

We know where it's going before it even starts, and though romantic comedies typically lend themselves to some predictability, the fun comes in getting there. It's the journey, not the destination, but with Couples, both are tedious and painful.

The film opens with Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman, Watchmen), a happy couple that gracefully braces the ever-growing responsibility of two children and all those little things life throws at them.

Not so fortunate are Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis, Sex and the City), both of whom are cheating behind each other's back, or recently divorced Shane (Faizon Love, Friday), who's recklessly sowing his wild oats with 20-year-old Trudy (Kali Hawk, Holla).

But none are quite so bad off as Jason (Jason Bateman, TV's Arrested Development) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), a couple of calculated control freaks whose trouble conceiving prompts them to consider divorce.

Between oddly placed jokes about testicular cancer and PowerPoint presentations, we learn that Jason and Cynthia hope to salvage their marriage by attending a relationship-building retreat on a tropical island. The only catch is they can't afford to go it alone and must convince the other couples to tag along for a discounted rate.

The couples agree, provided they can forego the marital counseling stuff and just enjoy the Jet Skis. Of course, nothing goes as planned.

The island, Eden, is run by guru extraordinaire Monsieur Marcel, a maddeningly flat character played by the multifaceted Jean Reno (The Professional), who forces all the couples to participate in a series of insipid exercises contrived to strengthen their marriages, while all the fun is had at Eden's singles resort, conveniently located on the other side of the island.

Jason and Cynthia aside, the couples doth protest, and formula ensues. Vaughn, Favreau and Fox scrape the moldy bottom of the comedy barrel for laughs, including Joey's multiple attempts at masturbation, a beefy Speedo-clad yoga instructor poising suggestively over the fellas' better halves, and an absurd Guitar Hero showdown.

The only laughs, which are few and far between, come from a couple graciously placed one-liners. The rest is tired tripe, with Couples' quasi-funny moments already revealed in the trailer that's been floating around for months.

In the loosest sense, Couples could be called a relationship movie, but only because its characters happen to be involved in relationships. In his earlier films, Woody Allen tackled the subject in ways endearing, funny and memorable, with scenes that could hit so close to home they'd have you checking the front door.

The relationships in Couples are crafted with a cookie cutter, any cookie cutter, for a quick-bake conflict that cleans just as easily. The difference is cookies don't take this long. And they don't typically stink.

We've seen it all before, and Couples Retreat offers nothing new. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that it was directed by Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in the timeless classic A Christmas Story. Maybe he doesn't deserve that Red Ryder BB Gun after all.

Couples Retreat, rated PG-13 for sexual content and language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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