Saturday, October 10, 2009

Couples Retreat

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Mandatory Marriage Counseling Ruins Vacation in Battle-of-the-Sexes Sitcom

Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are on the brink of separating. She hears her biological clock ticking, but their visits to a fertility clinic have been futile due to a low sperm count caused by testicular cancer. Before throwing in the towel, they agree to go for marriage counseling at Eden, an idyllic retreat on Bora Bora billing itself on the internet as the ultimate playground for adults. Besides couples’ therapy, the Polynesian getaway also offers jet skiing, snorkeling, windsurfing, drinking, dancing and all the rest of the amenities one would expect to enjoy at a tropical resort.

However, when Jason notices on its website that the group-rate is half the price, he decides to try to talk his buddies into coming along for an imprpomptu vacation, even though their relationships aren’t in crisis. There’s Dave (Vince Vaughn), who is just as much in love with Ronnie (Malin Akerman) as the day they wed. Meanwhile, Joey (Jon Favreau) might be emotionally-estranged from his spouse, Lucy (Kristin Bell), but the two have long-since resigned themselves to remaining together for the sake of their daughter (Jonna Walsh). And recently-divorced Shane (Faizon Love) misses his ex (Tasha Smith) despite the fact that he’s now dating Trudy (Kali Hawk), a gorgeous bimbo young enough to be his daughter.

After being assured that they won’t have to do any therapy sessions at the spa, the other couples book the trip, fully expecting to unwind during a relaxing week of partying and fun in the sun. Only upon their arrival, do they learn that the island is divided in half, with Eden East catering to the sort of hedonistic delights they were anticipating while Eden West has a mandatory daily regimen with activities designed with troubled relationships in mind.

Consequently, they all end up within earshot of the revelry on the other side of the bay, but find themselves under the thumb of Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno), a “Couples Whisperer” who claims he can cure any ailing marriage. Unfortunately, instead of bringing these folks closer together, his probing tends to create problems where there were none before. Soon, once-blissful Dave and Trudy are at each other’s throats; Lucy is shamelessly flirting with their muscle-bound yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce); and Trudy disappears entirely, presumably to the hedonistic side of the island in search of a single guy her own age.

Directed by former child star Peter Billingsley (A Christmas Story) Couples Retreat is a breezy sitcom that takes a lighthearted look at the state of male-female relating. To its credit, this refreshingly-tame chucklefest figured out how to elicit lots of laughs without having to resort to the sort of meanspirited insults which have become the staple of the battle-of-the-sexes genre.

Given the picture’s prevailing theme, brace yourself for plenty of therapeutic psychobabble being spewed by several on-site shrinks, but this film’s cerebral aspects are easily overshadowed by its slapstick and sillier asides, such as the sight of a toddler innocently peeing into a toilet on the floor of Home Depot. Shot primarily against a variety of exotic backdrops, Couples Retreat is practically worth the investment for the visually-pleasing panoramas alone.

Don’t expect much in the way of plot development, since it’s essentially a series of disconnected skits, most of which are funny, even if they don’t ultimately mesh together in any meaningful way. A pleasant romantic romp likely to delight, provided you’re willing to put your brain on pause for a couple of hours.

Very Good (3 stars)
PG-13 for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

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