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Review: 'Couples Retreat'

A likable cast and unlikable script combine for a forgettable comedy.

October 09, 2009|Michael Phillips

Remember "I Will, I Will . . . for Now," the 1976 comedy starring Elliott Gould and Diane Keaton about a husband and wife taking a chance on a swingin' sex clinic in order to reignite That Spark?

A year from now you won't remember "Couples Retreat" either. It's a commodity made to be consumed, not remembered, and if Vince Vaughn could help make "Four Christmases" a success, he may well get audiences to down this one too.

Now, I like Vaughn. He's both a real actor ("Into the Wild," for starters) and, with the right material, an ingratiating movie star with regular-guy appeal. Watching the unstable but intriguing machinations of "The Break-Up," you could trace precisely why that film clicked at the box office against all predictions. The scenes in which Vaughn's character finally owned up to his shortcomings to the Jennifer Aniston character, along with the scenes with his brother, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, had real feeling behind them, and Vaughn went at them bravely.

By contrast, the sloppily written shenanigans guiding "Couples Retreat" are all about movie star maintenance, giving Vaughn (who co-wrote and produced) the last word in every situation, the upper hand in every encounter and nothing fresh to play.

Director Peter Billingsley shot most of it in Bora Bora. The results are boring boring, and whether he's being circled by computer-generated sharks or bugged by sniveling Frenchmen and Brits, we're supposed to side with Vaughn simply because he's Vaughn, our adorable urban caveman.

He and Malin Akerman play Dave and Ronnie, one of four Chicago couples in the story. The husband and wife played by Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell, coping with infertility and other issues, ask their pals to join them on a tropical couples retreat to see them through to divorce or to reconciliation. Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis play Joey and Lucy; Faizon Love and Kali Hawk play Shane and his much-younger girlfriend, Trudy, though Vaughn's character seems contemptuous at best when it comes to most of these folks' problems.

The gang thinks it's getting umbrella drinks and beach time. They're met instead with a stern regimen of "couples whispering" tactics proffered by flaky resort owner Marcel (Jean Reno, searching in vain for a verifiable joke). These entail therapy sessions, yoga taught by a hunk who's distracting enough to entice the ladies and threaten the men, and generally staying away from the fun, singles-minded side of the island, where temptations lie.

Though I enjoy nearly everyone on screen in "Couples Retreat," I found it pretty meager and more than a little depressing. By the end, we're meant to be reassured and sent out smiling. So why did I feel as if I'd just watched a Hollywood remix of Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage"?

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mjphillips@tribune.com

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'Couples Retreat'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: In general release

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