Oct. 14, 2009 12:00

Couples Retreat: Paradise lost in lame comedy

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Couples Retreat: Paradise lost in lame comedy

Thirteen years ago, Vince Vaughn and John Favreau turned the word “money” into an adjective in Swingers. In Couples Retreat, they pull a similar trick by turning actual money — yours, specifically— into pure, distilled regret.

This story of eight awful people and their faltering relationships fails for the same reason many romantic comedies fail: It centers on caricatures instead of characters, all of whom behave in ways real people never behave. Yet by the third act, you’re supposed to empathize with them. Why? Because a few of them are attractive.

Take Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell), an analretentive couple that sets Couples Retreat’s ludicrous plot in motion when they give their friends a PowerPoint presentation (really!) on the probability of their marriage falling apart. Their conclusion: After two weeks at a remote tropical resort, they’ll know whether their troubles are worth working through, or whether it’s time to pack it in and see what else is out there.

Oh, but they can’t afford to go alone. To get the group rate, they need the participation of each of the following stock characters: workaholic Dave (Vaughn) and his wife, Ronnie (Malin Akerman), who are too busy to love each other; Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), who married right after high school and now hate the sight of one another; and Shane (Faizon Love), whose wife just left him, so he brings along his walking stereotype of a 20-year-old girlfriend (Kali Hawk).

That’s a lot of characters, which means it takes a lot of plot holes and contrivances to get them on vacation together. Not that it matters — the What you get instead of humor: exposition is just a hurried, graceless a protracted examination of four way to get these folks to paradise. couples who bear no resemblance For the film’s purposes, that means to anyone you know, unless your Eden West, a picturesque island friends are unusually thick-headed where couples go to stoke the dying and erratic. Over what might be the embers of their once-blazing love. longest hour and 40 minutes of your The friends find when they arrive that life, the couples bicker, — surprise! — they’ve been enrolled get uncomfortably in a program designed by relationship close while naked and guru Marcel (a criminally misused long to visit Eden East, Jean Reno), who favors trust-building the singles wing of the exercises and couples counseling over resort where problem- jet skis and binge drinking. Thanks, free 20-somethings go Jason and Cynthia! wild. But no, they’re Bell’s presence calls to mind the stuck doing yoga with a superior couples-on-holiday romp sexy instructor (Carlos Forgetting Sarah Marshall. She and Ponce) who continually Bateman are only two of the normally finds ways to straddle likeable actors wasting their time on the women and wave this lame material. All of the main his butt in the guy’s players are capable of much better, faces. and it’s painful to see them struggle This is comedy? against the film’s shoddy pacing, Seriously? Vaughn and courtesy of actor-turned-director Favreau, who wrote the Peter Billingsley. screenplay, have never been especially insightful, but they’ve usually been funnier than this. If nothing else, the Favreau-penned Swingers showed how enjoyable these two can be in the right setting.

Eden is not that setting. The couples are lured there under the pretense that it will be fun and relaxing, only to find themselves in a scenic prison. It is the only thing they have in common with the Couples Retreat audience.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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