“Couples Retreat” proves that even if it appears like all the ingredients are in the right place — great cast, solid writers, promising concept — a film might still fail. The movie is an exercise in mediocrity that, when it all actually comes together, manages to be somewhat funny. Unfortunately, more often than not, too much of the film relies on blandness and cheap sight gags.
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The story revolves around four couples: Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn, “Wedding Crashers” and Malin Akerman, “Watchmen”), Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman, “Hancock” and Kristen Bell, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau, “I Love You Man” and Kristin Davis, “Sex and the City”) and Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love, “Who’s Your Caddy” and relative newcomer Kali Hawk). Each couple has its own unique set of problems, and when Jason and Cynthia declare themselves headed for a divorce, all four couples travel to Eden Resort for much-needed vacations — and, unbeknownst to them, couples therapy.
Naturally, by the end of the film there are startling revelations, the rekindling of old flames and the inevitable reconciliations in which all past problems are forgotten. But until then, the couples will participate in bizarre trust-building activities, including swimming with sharks and discussing feelings while wearing matching kimonos.
There are some fairly funny moments during the therapy, including an uncomfortable yoga experience with an incredibly touchy trainer, as well as great cameos from Ken Jeong (“The Hangover”) and John Michael Higgins (“Yes Man”) as therapists. Unfortunately, these high points are paired with several scenes that are brutally unfunny and drag on for far too long — in particular, all scenes featuring Jean Reno (“The Da Vinci Code”) as the bizarre, French owner of the resort.
The rest of the film works in much the same way: There is a strong build-up in each scene, and jokes seem to be on the horizon, but many times they simply never arrive. There are several funny moments and one-liners, but as a whole, the movie feels unfinished. Several scenes feel as if they’re merely outtakes, with the actors attempting to search for funnier lines.
All of these actors are funny; they’ve proven it before numerous times. The problem here is that they’ve been handed mediocre material and were unable to transform it into anything more.
It’s a real surprise that this script was written by Vaughn and Favreau, who should both be able to write better jokes in their sleep. The problem is these two men are stuck playing the same character over and over again. And, while it’s still somewhat funny, it’s also getting old. It’ll be interesting to see if they ever realize that maybe it’s time to stop relying on what worked in the past and take some more chances.
A film like “Couples Retreat” is a pleasant but forgettable experience, which isn’t always necessarily a horrible thing. But, for a film that seems to have a lot of potentially great elements going for it, we are left to wonder what might have been. Either way, these actors will recover and will go on to make more (and, hopefully, funnier) films.