Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Couples Retreat" deserved to be funnier



Couples Retreat (2009)
110 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C

"Couples Retreat" is what happens when Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau graduate from the entourage single-guy-life of "Swingers" and regress to TV sitcom clich├ęs that would put even “Yes, Dear” or “According to Jim” to shame. At least those shows are evenly funny in their 30-minute time slot. 

Neurotic couple Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell), who appear to have an orderly marriage but are on the verge of a divorce, initiate a trip to Bora Bora at a trendy couples resort of Eden—it's “Disneyland for adults.” Their solution is spending a week there, but they can only afford the discount group rate with their friends. And they're off. Vaughn and Malin Akerman are the most believable and appealing couple; they're suburban parents Dave and Ronnie, with two young boys, whose biggest argument is deciding on kitchen tiles. Favreau and Kristin Davis are a one-note couple, Joey and Lucy, with a hoochy teenage daughter, who are high school sweethearts but have lost the happiness in their marriage. Shane (Faizon Love) is a recently divorced tubby taken up with a 20-year-old loudmouth, Trudy (Kali Hawk), who insists on calling him “Daddy” and always wants to get her drink on. Fun windsurfing and jetskiing are promised, but they have their expectations dashed by having skill-building and couples therapy sessions at 6 a.m. instead. Trouble in paradise? 

Under the feature-debut direction of Peter Billingsley (you'll-shoot-your-eye-out Ralphie from "A Christmas Story"), Vaughn's best friend and collaborator, there are some laughs, but you expect more from such a talented, likable cast. And you can just tell he trimmed the R-rated humor down to a PG-13 level. The premise alone had possibilities, but as it is, the whole affair feels like a neutered dog, missing that blast of comic energy it needed. Vaughn and Favreau did write the script, so they symptomatically get to do their ad-libbing “thing” and help sprinkle in some hilarious, machine-gun line readings (“This looks like a screen saver” when they first get off the boat to the island, Dave's post-traumatic stress after an encounter with sharks, and Joey's body massage with a happy ending). 

But Bell and Bateman aren't appealing as these type-A bores who are such control freaks that they display their relationship via Powerpoint presentations (which is vaguely amusing at first sight). Akerman is the most affable, while Davis is largely wasted. Love is the standout for hilarity and his Shane character has the most honest arc. But all the couples have predictably tidy, magical make-ups. Carlos Ponce makes a funny grand entrance as a pervy, speedo-clad, Fabio-like yoga instructor, but the obviously creepy joke of him bending every couple into sexually overt positions grows tiresome. John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong are reliably amusing as therapists but they're cameo-small roles. 

It's not an unpleasant time watching this amiable cast have a fun time making "Couples Retreat," and all the women look good in bikinis, but this trip overstays its visit and the broad jokes just aren't money enough, baby. Who knew the real scene stealer would be a cute little boy on hand for a peepee and poopy joke? Vaughn will surely make "Couples Retreat" a public hit, but audiences deserve funnier.

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