Three sets of slackening spouses pack up and ship off to “Eden,” a tropical marriage rehab resort, to try to strengthen their holy unions. Actually, only one couple, played by a frigid Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell in business-class chic, hopes to rediscover marital bliss. The others attend at the promise of paradise and to round out the discounted group rate.
Of course, Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman have lost a sense of each other in the day-to-day, and Jon Favreau can barely stifle a shudder at the sight of his wife, played by Kristin Davis (the feeling is mutual for Davis). A newly-separated Faizon Love also tags along with a fly-fab barely-legal to provide pratfalls, racial stereotypes, and old-guy-with-a-young-gal jokes a-plenty. So rest assured: this should prove a learning experience for everyone.
“Eden” is gorgeous, with crystal blue waters and spotless skies. Upon arrival, Favreau immediately begins to conceive disloyalty when a clique of collegiate bombshells stops to flirt. Daddy issues must be in play here, or their interest in his middle-aged, flabby physique is beguiling. Maybe Favreau should turn around and take a look at his own wife: years of frustration have done wonders for Davis’ figure.
Bateman and Vaughn seem perfectly respectable, but they aren’t exactly Abercrombie models. Meanwhile, Bell and Ackerman are a round or two each of hair and makeup away from a Playboy centerfold. These guys should be praising some god for landing them such lusty ladies. Instead, they are neglectful. It’s a wonder their wives did not abandon ship at the first sign of trouble. Surely they could have quickly found peace on someone else’s shores.
Communication is definitely an issue, but not a lack of it. ‘Couples Retreat’ is smothered by exposition and overstatement. And then, in case you missed it, even more exposition and overstatement. Often a third time, too. Not only does this wring the humor out of practically every joke, but when it’s a clunker—well, if it wasn’t funny to begin with, it’s only exponentially more irritating the fourth time around.
The plot chugs along through a series of marriage-strengthening exercises that do provide an unsightly laugh or two. But the build-up—the talking about, and the talking about the talking about these moments—would rival the anticipation before the second coming of Christ. And then we are treated to cheap slapstick and sight gags. Not that hyperbolic shark attacks, mounds of naked man chunk, and Kamasutram yoga poses aren’t amusing: they are pummeled by the context.
Attempts at dialogic pleasantries are just as lazy and uninspired, aside from a few possibly improvised exchanges between the leading males. There’s no question that Vince Vaughn and Jason Bateman especially are strong comedic performers. Even Kristen Bell and Malin Akerman put a lot of heart into their roles. There’s just so little substance for them to work with: a sparkling sea of listless mumble jumble.
The only hint at a fresh perspective comes when the troubled troupes sit down for talk sessions. There are no gimmicks, no sight gags involved: just two people talking openly about their relationship under the advisement of a therapist. The always hilarious Ken Jeong injects some much needed levity into the film with his psychoanalysis. I’ll be looking out for the “puppy cradle death syndrome” in the DSM-V. Still, the concept promises far more honesty and intelligence than it actually delivers.
An appealing cast and vapid entertainment values barely congeal the combative bits of ‘Couples Retreat’ before everything wraps up in that neat and tidy Hollywood way that manages to be just as insipid and sloppy. The island antics reach their climax in a high-intensity drunken stupor, complete with an extended Guitar Hero showdown (a mutated product placement stint gone awry for sure) in an abandoned jungle Starbucks.
It is then, within minutes it seems, that our couples come to their senses and realize their undying love for one another, rendering just about everything up to that point in the film completely irrelevant. That is what they call “irony,” folks. No, wait. That’s what they call “idiocy.”
‘Couples Retreat’ is presented by Universal Pictures in association with Relativity Media.
The film was written by Jon Favreau, and Vince Vaughn & Dana Fox. The film was directed by Peter Billingsley.
Also starring are Temuera Morrison and Jean Reno.
Runtime is 107 minutes.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.