You'll want to escape from "Couples Retreat"

Oct. 13, 2009, midnight | By Ava Wallace | 11 years, 6 months ago

An inconsistent plot overpowers the comedy potential of Vince Vaughn's brainchild

With a cast of comedy veterans, characters quirky enough to be in a Ben Stiller flick, and a setting that invites disaster to strike, "Couples Retreat" is poised to be a hilarious comedy. But the film, directed by Peter Billinglsey and produced by Vince Vaughn, flip-flops between serious dialogue and absurd situations, leaving the audience confused, unattached and ready to leave the theater.

The film, written by Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, who also stars in the movie, focuses on a group of four couples facing their own set of martial issues. One couple, played by Jason Bateman and Kristin Bell, is struggling with infertility and considering a divorce. But before they decide to separate or stay together, they convince their six other friends to vacation on an island resort that promises to strengthen relationships. The resort, of course, creates more problems than solutions, and the couples must fight to keep their relationships alive.

Though this film was plugged as a comedy, subjects about morality and life values were weaved into the plot, creating an awkward mood. Serious themes of adultery, sterility, and divorce were all too common in this seemingly lighthearted movie. The result was unfunny comedy mixed with random and serious moments. In one scene, Vaughn's character bluntly points out how all of his male friends are the roots of their marital problems. No music plays in the background, and all of the male characters are dumbstruck, consumed in angry introversion. The very next scene features all of the same male characters, no longer angry, locked in a heated Guitar Hero battle.

This isn't to say that the movie should have chosen one extreme or the other, but a medium between "Revolutionary Road" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" would have been nice, as opposed to jumping between the two. Not only is the plot poorly arranged but the main characters are undeveloped. The audience learns about the day-to-day lives of the couples without getting to know their personalities. Each couple is a one- dimensional cliché: Vaughn's character and his wife, played by Malin Akerman ("The Proposal," "27 Dresses"), are a "normal" family with kids and Bateman and Bell are careful and calculated, but can't figure out how to get pregnant. Favreau's character and his wife, played by Kristin Davis ("Sex and the City"), have been stuck in a marriage since high school, and lastly there's the token divorcee who's found "love" in a twenty year old. An hour goes by before the couples even get to the island, and at that point the audience still isn't invested in the characters.

Amidst the slew of simple characters, it seems only Bateman and Bell were able to develop and stay true to their characters as the movie wildly transitioned between comedy and drama; they were the most enjoyable of the whole cast. Minor characters were able to provide some laughs, including Vaughn and Akerman's on – screen children, who adorably provided comic relief. Like so many other things in the film, however, the kids' personalities fluctuate between serious and sassy. Similar to the kids in droll, the resort staff, played by a supporting cast including Peter Serafinowicz ("Shaun of the Dead") and Ken Jeong ("The Hangover," "Knocked Up"), were noteworthy for some sarcasm and wit. The staff's zany personalities were potentially hysterical, but once again the characters were taken too seriously and the comical aspects were overlooked.

"Couples Retreat" is one of those all-too familiar movies that uncomfortably bounces between comedy and drama. The film doesn't invest the audience and that disconnect ultimately shrinks the movies likability. Although it was set up for success, "Couples Retreat" will soon be coupled with regrettably sour films.

"Couples Retreat" (107 minutes) is rated PG – 13 on appeal for sexual content and language. Now playing everywhere.

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