Humor lost in heat of ‘Retreat’

By Danny Marchant

couplesretreat webThere is very little comedy in the new Vince Vaughn movie, “Couples Retreat.” For the two-hour duration of the movie, there are maybe five jokes. Most of them happen within the first 30 minutes, leaving an hour and a half of boring, awkward “comedy” to sit through. When a drama doesn’t connect with an audience, it’s “unintentionally funny.” This movie is unintentionally serious.

The film is about four couples and their efforts to put some life back into their marriages. Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are on the verge of divorce, and so have decided to travel to an island resort (Eden) to save their relationship. However, in order to get a good deal, they have to bring friends. Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman), Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis) and the recently divorced Shane (Faizon Love) and his new girlfriend (Kali Hawk), join them. While only one couple is there for therapy, it becomes clear that if you are in Eden, you will “follow the program.” Their week in paradise turns into an outrageous, non-stop laugh riot, or at least it’s supposed to.

The biggest problem with “Couples Retreat” is that for a comedy filled with actors like Vaughn, Bateman and Bell, it’s surprisingly bland and unfunny. The script was written by Favreau and Vaughn, and after all the comedies they’ve been involved in (“Wedding Crashers,” “Swingers,” etc.) you would think that this movie would be hilarious. However, it seems Favreau is preoccupied with the “Iron Man” movies and Vaughn is still reeling from “Fred Claus.”

That being said, Vince Vaughn does provide some laughs. Four of the five laughs were his doing in fact. But rather than his usual, likably unlikable self, Vaughn seems uninterested and unenthusiastic in the proceedings. The movie was shot in a real-life paradise, Bora Bora, and perhaps Vaughn just wanted a vacation for himself – show up, do the “rapid-fire talking thing” and swim in the crystal clear ocean.

In fact, the whole cast is underwhelming. Most of the characters are unlikable, and it’s hard to get into a comedy if you’re annoyed by everyone on screen. Perhaps the most tragic is Jason Bateman. It’s obvious that Bateman is just killing time until the “Arrested Development” movie. In this movie, however, there is nothing lovable about his nitpicking and obsession with detail.

Now it can’t all be blamed on the actors and the script – someone directed the movie. The director is Peter Billingsley, whose making his directorial debut with “Couples Retreat.” Billingsley is probably best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.” While that has little to do with how good or bad the movie is, it is undeniably weird. He will always have a special place in our hearts for Ralphie, but not for this movie.

“Couples Retreat” drags on for far too long. Maybe Billingsley saved all that time for island hijinks. But there are no hijinks to be found. This is a completely hijinks-less film. Scenes are just long setups for no punch line. Or they’re abrupt and serve no purpose other than to show Malin Akerman in a bikini.

Towards the end, the film starts to have a plot. The couples have to find Shane’s missing girlfriend, and it’s at this point that the movie crams in its message. Therapy can help, but it’s all about communication and appreciating each other. That’s all well and good, but it comes out of nowhere and does nothing to make this “comedy” any funnier.

Somewhere in this muddled mess, there is a good movie. The cast is made up of talented actors, but they’re doing stale, boring jokes with no enthusiasm. I’m sure they all had a blast in Bora Bora, but that does nothing for the audience. In fact, it’s even worse knowing they spent all that time in paradise to make a movie that is anything but. If you’re in the mood for a real laugh, go see “Surrogates.” An “unintentionally funny” movie will always brighten up your day.

Danny Marchant can be reached [email protected]