October 15, 2009

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Couples Retreat (PG-13)
Four couples attempt to enjoy a tropical vacation and/or fix their respective relationships in Couples Retreat, a limp comedy.

In descending order of crappy relationships:

• Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) have a happy-ish seeming relationship that is being nipped at around the edges by the stresses of having two small boys and by attempting to redecorate their kitchen.

• The hyper-organized Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are having no luck attempting to conceive a child and find that it’s starting to wear on their marriage.

• Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) cheat on and despise each other, waiting only for the day their 18-year-old daughter leaves the house so they can separate.

• Shane (Faizon Love) has already been dumped by his wife and is now dating Trudy (Kali Hawk), a girl a few decades too young for him.

Jason and Cynthia, despite having only the third-worst relationship of the quartet, tell the gang they are considering divorce and want to save their marriage by going to an all-inclusive tropical resort where they will jet-ski and go to counseling. To afford it, they ask their friends to join in, though, they tell them, for the non-divorcing couples it will be all jet-skiing.

Turns out, in their half of Eden (the name of the resort), it’s all about counseling, so soon even the seemingly happy couple is fighting and nobody is having a sunny getaway.

Couples going through therapy and realizing how unhappy they are in their relationships? Comedy gold!

I don’t know that I’d personally rather sit through couples counseling than sit through this movie. On the one hand, counseling would probably only last 50 minutes but on the other hand I didn’t have to get my HMO involved in going to see this movie. Hmm, deal with an HMO representative, watch a shrill Kristin Davis yell at a phoning-it-in Jon Favreau — the level of torture is about equal.

In spite of being hammered with the trailer for this movie since early summer, I still had high hopes, still wanted to like it. The potential comedy talent here is considerable — Favreau, Vaughn, Davis, Bateman, Bell. Director Peter Billingsley (yes, Ralphie) worked with Vaughn on the rambling and likeable Wild West Comedy Road Show. The laid back, kick-around mood of that movie didn’t create a great film that will be considered a classic for the ages but it did create an enjoyable movie that made you happy while you were watching it. Here, I felt myself cringing through most of the movie. So much of the humor was about resort employees with funny accents, guys in too-tight swimsuits (or no swimsuits) and comic actors trying to out-straight-man each other (which is, in addition to not funny, kind of exhausting to watch). Just because the movie is filled with clichés doesn’t mean this group couldn’t have made it click. The potentional for comedy chemistry is there. But everything that should have been kind of goofily enjoyable simply came off as stupid, and where there could have been entertaining observational humor there were simply flat husband-wife jokes barely papering over a seriously mean streak in the movie (and not, sadly, mean in a good way).

Sit through all this discomfort and you’re treated to a deeply annoying and unambitious ending. It’s not just disappointing but a bit angering that nobody gave this smart crowd something better to do than to mouth these stale lines (and even more disappointing that it’s members of this gang that wrote all this lameness to begin with). Maybe that conversation with the HMO rep would be more fun after all. D+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Directed by Peter Billingsley and written by Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and Dana Fox, Couples Retreat is an hour and 47 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures.