Couples Retreat


Malin Akerman (center) realizes her love scenes are with Vince Vaughn while her co-stars pretend not to notice her discomfort.

Malin Akerman (center) realizes her love scenes are with Vince Vaughn while her co-stars pretend not to notice her discomfort.

(Universal) Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, Jean Reno, Faizon Love, Kali Hawk, Carlos Ponce, Peter Serafinowicz, Tasha Smith, Temuera Morrison, Jonna Walsh. Directed by Peter Billingsley

Relationships require a lot of work and even with that, none are ever perfect. Sometimes we have problems with our mates that we didn’t even know we had.

Dave (Vaughn) is a happily married video game salesman (specializing in Guitar Hero) who has a nice suburban Chicago home, two mostly well-behaved kids (although one has a tendency to use just about anything as his personal toilet) a stressful job that demands long hours, and a gorgeous, loving wife (Akerman) named Ronnie who is completely absorbed in remodeling their home. He is less enthusiastic about the project and this has brought some tension to the marriage.

His best buddy is Joey (Favreau), who married Lucy (Davis) just out of high school after he got her pregnant. They show a united front to the world, especially when their daughter Lacey (Walsh) attempts to leave the house in the middle of winter dressed like a hooker, but in reality they can’t stand each other and plan to divorce as soon as Lacey leaves for Stanford. In the meantime, they are cheating on each other as much as they can.

Shane (Love) is already divorced and dating Trudy (Hawk), a much younger model wannabe. He’s going through a big time midlife crisis, but is having some financial troubles after his wife Jennifer (Smith) soaked him in the divorce. He asks his buddy Dave to co-sign on a loan to buy a motorcycle, which Dave refuses at first but eventually gives in when Shane opens up and tells him how much he needs it on a personal level. Dave’s an enabler that way.

Finally there’s Jason (Bateman) and his wife Cynthia (Bell) who seem perfect for each other. So anal they make squeaking noises when they walk, they have had difficulty conceiving a child. This has caused strain so severe on their marriage they are considering a divorce, a fact they reveal to their friends in a PowerPoint presentation (squeak, squeak, squeak). They intend to give their marriage one last-ditch effort at the beautiful Eden resort in the South Pacific, where they will have the opportunity to jet ski and learn couples skill building at the same time.

The others aren’t so enthusiastic about going, although their interest is piqued when Jason and Cynthia promise them they don’t have to do any of the touchy-feely stuff. Dave’s objection is that he can’t really get away from work and that they couldn’t get anyone to watch the kids anyway, but when his kids beg him to go and even call his dad to babysit, Dave and Cynthia – who had skipped their honeymoon when Dave got a job offer – decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

Once there they fall under the ministrations of the smarmy concierge Sctanley (yes, that’s how he spells it) and the new age guru Marcel (Reno) who is something of a whiz kid at rescuing marriages. Once there, they realize that all the fun stuff is located in the singles side of the island to which they are forbidden to go, and that all of them had to partake of the skill building sessions. As they go through therapy, cracks in the facades of all their relationships begin to appear until it becomes evident that none of them may leave Problem Island with their marriages intact. 

Vaughn co-wrote and co-produced this epic with his buddy Favreau, and if you like either one of their onscreen personas in previous movies like Swingers and Wedding Crashers, you’ll want to see this. Vaughn gets most of the great one-liners (the advantage of being your own producer and writer) and he delivers them seamlessly, Vince Vaughn-style.

It seems odd that the three middle aged flabby guys all have super hot wives (Akerman, Bell and Davis all look pretty spectacular in bikinis) and Love, who is a bit of a behemoth, has essentially a 20-year-old supermodel doing the nasty with him in oh-so-nasty ways. However, this is Hollywood and I suppose anything is possible.

The cast is really solid and they all are given characters that give them at least something to latch onto as actors, and they’re all good enough to take advantage of it. It’s too bad the script couldn’t have given them a better story. While the concept is solid, the way they get from beginning to end is pretty weak. I think they would have benefited from a little more realism and maybe the knowledge that not every marriage works out okay should have been introduced. The whole notion of love conquering all is mainly a Hollywood invention and nobody really believes it anymore. While I’m sure studio executives were anxious for everyone to end up happy and in love, the movie would have been better if they hadn’t.

Filmed at the St. Regis resort in Bora Bora, one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s a great-looking film. The bottom line is whether or not it’s funny. The answer is, yeah for the most part. There are some moments that fall flat, and some of the writing seems a bit forced into making a Hollywood happy ending. The underlying message is that as long as the sex is good, so is the marriage which doesn’t really ring true. Still, there are enough laughs for me to recommend this slightly. It’s not as horrible as other critics are making it out to be; it’s just slightly better than okay. Not a ringing endorsement I know, but the sandal definitely fits.

REASONS TO GO: Jennifer Garner’s best performance to date augments an intriguing premise. The movie has a good deal of heart and has at least one genuinely moving moment.

REASONS TO STAY: The romantic comedy aspect doesn’t work as well as the satire. Too many cameos spoil the broth.

FAMILY VALUES: Some PG sexual situations and one scene in which some self-pleasuring is implied; nothing really overt but you may want to think twice before bringing kids who are less aware of sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Couples Retreat marks the fourth movie that both Vaughn and Favreau have been in together.

HOME OR THEATER: Although some of the lovely shots of Bora Bora look gorgeous on the big screen, it works as well on the home screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Reader