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Monday, October 12, 2009

Couples Retreat

Vince Vaughn (Four Christmases)
Jason Bateman (State of Play)
Jon Favreau (I Love You Man)
Malin Ackerman (The Proposal)
Kristin Davis (Sex and the City)
Kristen Bell ("Gossip Girl")
Faizon Love (A Day in the Life)
Kali Hawk (Pushing Thirty)
Peter Serafinowicz ("The Peter Serafinowicz Show")
Jean Reno (The Pink Panther 2)

Directed by:
Peter Billingsley (as Producer; Iron Man)

Written by:
Vince Vaughn (The Break-Up), and Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas)

 Anyone married for more than a few years will appreciate the laughs to be found in Universal’s Couples Retreat. The comedy stars Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, and a slew of other fine actors as thirty-something couples circling towards forty and treating it like a death sentence. For Bateman, cleverly dubbed “Jason”, the problem he and his wife Cynthi (Bell) have been facing is their inability to conceive a child after years of trying. It’s reached a point now that they are considering divorce and their decision to participate in a couple’s therapy program is a last-ditch effort that is the impetus for them to invite all of their closest friends to join them on a trip to a tropical resort called Eden even though the other three couples agree to tag along simply to enjoy the spa, surf, and sun at this exclusive spot (actually Bora Bora). Naturally, it turns out that despite that plan, everybody discovers new ways to relate to one another and even the one couple that doesn’t go together ends up finding the real meaning of their bond before the end credits roll. Awww.

Peter (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Kid!”) Billingsley, who started life as a child actor and became a national icon thanks to TNT’s annual 24-hour marathon of his 1983 A Christmas Story, does a fine job in his directorial debut. Even though the film doesn’t focus much on the couples’ children, Billingsley does great with the little nippers who play Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie’s (Akerman) sons. They actually get some of the biggest laughs of the movie even though they have the least airtime. I couldn’t help but think how odd it must be for him, now 38, to be on the other side of the camera and steering the careers of children who are starting out in the business at an age when he first started.

The film is fairly scatter-shot in its approach to story-telling as it jumps from couple to couple and addresses the problems each face. One thing that becomes more apparent with time is that it never really does make sense that these people would be friends in the first place. Besides social, educational, and class differences, the couples seem to have very little in common. While the movie lingers almost tediously over the hemming-and-hawing done by Jason and Cynthia’s friends about whether to join them of this expedition, it does nothing to establish how and why they became pals. Since we already know they are going to go on the trip the movie wastes lot of lost time listening to folks gab about their financial woes and the burden of having kids. No offense, but I think people came to see this movie to get away from thinking about these real life issues and to get to the island, not spend time being reminded about how crappy things are outside of the Cineplex. Too bad, scripters Favreau, Vaughn and Fox didn’t put half as much effort into working to convince us that these folks actually had friendships strong enough to make them want to vacation together. Personally, I can’t think of many people I’d be willing to plunk down thousands of dollars to go on holiday with, and that includes my own perfect husband. Separate vacations are heavenly. There, my (dead) Ann Landers words of wisdom for the week.

The real standout in this otherwise obvious sitcom bloated to big-screen size is the appearance of British actor and comedian Peter Serafinowicz as “Sctanley…with a ‘c’”, Eden’s fey version of Fantasy Islands Mr. Roarke. Sctanley is the sort of character one rarely sees these days, the prissy descendent of Edward Everett Horton or even Charles Nelson Reilly. Wound so tight he could produce a diamond in thirty minutes if you shoved a lump of coal up his rear end (but getting it there would be a whole other movie), Sctanley is both the island’s angelic host and its tempting demon, depending on who the guest happens to be, and that is where the challenge lies for at least one in our tour group while for the rest the real work lies in their therapy sessions, delightfully played for laughs with a series of peculiar therapists taking the lead, all building up to the grand entrance of the main guru himself, Marcel (Reno), who is as full of himself as Octomom is full of fertile eggs ready to go.

Couples Retreat is not a particularly great movie. It’s a tad too reminiscent of last year’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the year before that’s The Heartbreak Kid to feel altogether fresh.  And, seriously, it’s not on a par with the last Vaughn/Bateman/Favreau/Billingsley boy’s night out together in The Break-Up, but it is still pretty funny, and it has plenty of eye candy to keep you distracted during the slower moments. That’s one of the benefits of filming in paradise ~ lots of skin. Overall, it is what it is. You pay a few shekels, you get some laughs, and by the next day you’ll barely remember what it was you saw, but ~ what the heck? ~ It is a fun couple of hours and you will come out feeling better than when you came in. Is that so wrong?    

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