First time director Peter Billingsley (you may remember him as Ralphie in A Christmas Story) picked the wrong film to make his directorial debut on. Even with big names signed on and a successful raunch-comedy template in place, Couples Retreat fails to deliver the big laughs, hell, if I’m being honest, it pretty much fails to deliver any laughs whatsoever.
But how can’t it be funny to watch four couples try to rekindle broken relationships through asinine set pieces that involve couples therapy?
For starters, there isn’t one good character in the bunch that you’d want to identify with — they’re so seemingly self absorbed and petty you can’t like them and there isn’t any reason for them to be in a relationship to begin with. Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) can’t have children so they’re rethinking their nuptials because of it; Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) have problems stemming from his constant wandering eye; Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) are the only ones in love but seem to have lost that lovin’ feeling; and Shane (Faizon Love) and Trudy (Kali Hawk) have an age gap that has become impossible to ignore.
The interactions within the couples and between this group of best friends is, to say the least, contrived and mostly mind numbingly retarded — married people shouldn’t behave like this even if it is being done in the name of comedy. It’s hard to imagine the well timed one-liners and snarkiness Vince Vaughn is known for is lost in Couples Retreat even though it is his stuff only that has any mild entertainment value to it. The women are all throwaways, although I’ll give a minor nod to Malin Akerman for at least showing up and making her character relatively pleasing. The guys, well let’s just say they’re cookie cutter oafs or pussies (c’mon Bateman, be the former already).
A majority of the scenarios our protagonists find themselves are ill-conceived too. The oft-hyped scuba diving scene in which sharks come to investigate is all wet. If you can find a laugh in there, you’re a better man than I am. Yoga class has a moment or two of chuckles, but that’s in thanks to a scantily-clad instructor named Salvador (Carlos Ponce) and his sexual nuances. There’s also a prolonged Guitar Hero scene that somehow managed to not find its way to the cutting room floor. Yet, the big kick in the ass is it takes forever to get to these moments and to subject us to 107 minutes worth of, more often than not, flat jokes is just downright mean. And oh, how can I forget the joke that is the ending. It is the over simplified variety that tidies up all the squabbling and jaded feelings with a nice neat red bow fit for the best Christmas present. After all the shit tossing, do these caricatures of “normal” people deserve such nicety? Really?
With Vaughn and Favreau involved with the screenplay (along with Dana Fox), I expected a completely different outcome. Shame on me for going into Couples Retreat with preconceived notions — I won’t be doing that again. And now that you know, you can find something wholly unrelated to do.