It’s a crime to put a bunch of funny people into a movie and then give them the script to Couples Retreat.
The raw potential of the cast, which includes Jon Favreau, Vince
Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Malin Ackerman, Kristen Bell and Peter
Serafinowicz, is undeniable, but even people as talented as they need
some sort of a script with which to work.

The likability and charisma of the actors, combined with the stunning
location photography of Bora Bora carries the first half of the movie,
but once the film starts getting around to the business of plot
resolution and tying up arcs everything falls to pieces. Couples Retreat stutters
and stammers and finally lurches to a conclusion that feels like the
ending of a sitcom, as though the script had a set page count and it
had been reached, so the movie just had to be wrapped up there.

The basic premise is simple: Bateman and Bell are a power couple whose
marriage is falling apart. They want to go to an island resort called
Eden, known for its couple’s counseling, but they can’t afford to go
alone. If their friends all come with them, though, it’s more
affordable. Their friends are Jon Favreau and Kristen Bell, high school
sweethearts who only got married because she got knocked up and who are
only still together until the kid leaves for college; Vince Vaughn and
Malin Ackerman, a happy couple with kids and a stressful job (he
‘sells’ Guitar Hero, but I never figured out what that
exactly means. Could he just be a clerk at a GameStop?); and Faizon
Love, who recently got divorced and is taking along his 21 year old
hoochie mama instead of his wife. Not the most inspired premise for a
motion picture comedy, but the good comedies can come from deceptively
simple places: two guys cross dress to avoid the mafia, for instance.
And the movie shows early signs that it could have something up its
sleeve. Serafinowicz plays the creepy, fascist Tattoo to Eden’s French
Mr. Rourke, played by Jean Reno. And there’s a slimy yoga instructor
played by Carlos Ponce, who seems like he could be the source of many
good laughs.

Except nothing goes anywhere. There are some laughs, but scenes that
should be gut busters, like Vince Vaughn surrounded by sharks in the
ocean, hang limply. There are good moments – these actors are too good
to not bring at the very least moments – but nothing that coheres. And
then once the film begins trudging towards the boringly standard
resolutions for each of the couples (spoiler: it’s ‘Work hard at your
marriage.’ Every time.), it truly loses its way, feeling like improv of
a half-written outline. Any hope for smart character based comedy is
dashed as the film gets so routine you can safely walk out with thirty
minutes to go; not only will you be saving yourself some of the least
funny minutes of any comedy of the year, you’ll also be beating the
traffic. There are things that happen at the end that are so pat, so
coincidental and so free of drama and meaning that I came to the
conclusion that all of the characters died at one point, making the
too-easy finale the figment of a dying imagination. That would have
actually been an amazing conclusion, or at least one that would have
felt ballsy.

The script is credited to Favreau and Vaughn and What Happens in Vegas writer
Dana Fox; the reality is that this was probably an excuse for the two
guys to get back together on a movie set, and in this case to make the
movie set a tropical paradise. There’s no doubt that the people making
the film had a good time, but they were utterly unable to capture any
of that fun on film. Longtime Vaughn buddy and producer Peter
Billingsley makes his feature directorial debut here, and truth be
told, he needs more practice. There are baffling and confusing editing
choices galore in this film (the movie feels like many of the cuts were
made at random, and like huge swaths of the picture were arbitrarily
left on the cutting room floor), and many of the comedy moments are
flat and airless. Comedy’s tough, and it requires more than aiming a
camera at funny people.

The truth is that Couples Retreat is exactly what it
looks like: a bland, stupid, unfunny, dead center of the road studio
comedy. I had hoped that with the talent assembled it might be
something more, or at least something amusing. While there are some
laughs to be found, in the end the film’s just a complete and total
boring mess.

3 out of 10