'Couples Retreat'

Film has some bright ideas and an appealing cast that only fly so high due to pedestrian execution.

“Couples Retreat” is one of those movies that makes moviemaking look like the luckiest job in the world. Those involved got to spend weeks at a Bora Bora luxury resort; all we get is this not lousy but unmemorable tropical-vacation comedy. Reuniting several frequent past collaborators (most notably “Swingers” alums Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau), the tale of four couples at a relationship workshop in an exotic locale has a good premise, an appealing cast and some bright ideas that only fly so high due to pedestrian execution. Still, pleasant-enough results should earn solid midrange B.O. numbers.

After a nice opening-credits montage of couples imagery since cinema’s beginning, we’re introduced to various Illinois duos. Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) have a happy, slightly chaotic household with two young sons and a normal amount of stress. On the other hand, former high school sweethearts Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) are just hanging on until their daughter’s imminent departure for college, at which point they’ll gladly separate.

Shane (Faizon Love) has recently divorced the wife he could never please (Tasha Smith) and taken up with 20-year-old wild thang Trudy (Kali Hawk). She calls him “Daddy” — which, indeed, he might be mistaken for. And though they seem perfect for each other, persnickety pair Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) drop a bombshell: After eight years’ wedlock undone by failure to conceive, they worry they aren’t soulmates after all.

Determined to give it one last shot, Jason and Cynthia have found a program — at the alluring Eden Resort, billed as “Disneyland for adults” –that could salvage their relationship. Trouble is, they can only afford the group rate. They beg the others to sign on, promising them they can enjoy fun in the sun while Cynthia and Jason work on “renewing bonds.”

Upon arrival, Eden (actually the St. Regis in Bora Bora) proves duly idyllic, and the inevitable tourist shots of its splendid setting come as a relief after thesp-turned-producer-turned-first-time-director Peter Billingsley’s blah-looking first reel. But world-famed “couples whisperer” Marcel (Jean Reno) has a program in store that’s much more intensive than expected. Far from being allowed to snorkel, doze and work on their tans, the couples are expected — even demanded — to rise at dawn for “skill-building exercises” that are like a kind of New Age boot camp. These push the central duos — and the friendships between them — to near-breakup points.

While the inevitable happy endings are orchestrated with just enough finesse to satisfy, elsewhere “Couples Retreat” wobbles. The screenplay (credited primarily to Favreau, with Vaughn and Dana Fox billed beneath), sports a fair number of good throwaway lines but could be a lot sharper overall.

Billingsley’s workmanlike helming delivers a couple of hilarious scenes; the PG-13 pic’s raunchiest moments include a frustrating erotic-massage interlude for Lucy and Joey, and a sexually inappropriate yoga class taught by hunky Salvadore (Carlos Ponce). Yet elsewhere, the helmer impresses too little imagination or personality, failing to blend seriocomic tones that occasionally tumble into the heavy-handed, maudlin or cloying (via some horribly precocious child-actor moments).

Pic moves briskly but, at 113 minutes, clocks long for a mainstream comedy; more inspiration in tech/design departments would have been welcome. Thesps remain amiable, even if all have been deployed to greater advantage elsewhere — the exception being relative newcomer Hawk, whose character is a giddy party-hearty contrast to the older principals, and whose performance is a consistent hoot.

Couples Retreat

Production

A Universal release presented in association with Relativity Media of a Wild West Picture Show/Stuber Pictures production. Produced by Vince Vaughn, Scott Stuber. Executive producers, Victoria Vaughn, Guy Riedel. Co-producer, Jon Isbell. Directed by Peter Billingsley. Screenplay, Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Dana Fox.

Crew

Camera (color), Eric Edwards; editor, Dan Lebental; music, A.R. Rahman; music supervisor, John O'Brien; production designer, Shepherd Frankel; art directors, Curt Beech, Clint Wallace; set decorator, Daniel B. Clancy; costume designer, Susan Matheson; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Steve Cantamessa; supervising sound editor, Terry Rodman; re-recording mixers, Steve Pederson, Brad Sherman; assistant director, Rip Murray; casting, Sarah Halley Finn. Reviewed at Century 9, San Francisco, Oct. 6, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Dave - Vince Vaughn Jason - Jason Bateman Joey - Jon Favreau Shane - Faizon Love Lucy - Kristin Davis Ronnie - Malin Akerman Cynthia - Kristen Bell Briggs - Temuera Morrison Marcel - Jean Reno Trudy - Kali Hawk
With: Tasha Smith, Carlos Ponce, Peter Serafinowicz, John Michael Higgins, Ken Jeong, Charlotte Cornwell, Amy Hill, Jonna Walsh, Gattlin Griffith, Colin Baiocchi, Vernon Vaughn, Janna Fassaert, Xavier Tournaud, Paul Boese.

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