"Couples Retreat" suggests what life might have been like if the guys from "Swingers" had grown up, moved to the suburbs and turned into lame, sitcommy cliches.
Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn team up again, on screen and on the script (along with Dana Fox), for this broad comedy about four couples who go on a tropical vacation together.
In theory, they're all there to support their friends Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) as they try to save their marriage through the couples' counseling the resort offers. Little do they know they'll get sucked into agonizing therapy sessions that reveal their own rifts. For example: Vaughn's character, Dave, doesn't care about picking out tile to redo the kitchen. His wife, Ronnie (Malin Akerman), does. It's a laugh riot if you think Paul Reiser's "Couplehood" is funny _ and we haven't even gotten to their painfully cute young son whose defining personality trait is urinating and pooping in inappropriate places.
Under the direction of Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from "A Christmas Story"), another longtime Vaughn friend and collaborator making his first feature, "Couples Retreat" veers back and forth in a jarring way between crude sexual humor and supposedly poignant moments. The couples endure forced nudity and a wildly erotic yoga class; Favreau's character, Joey, and his wife, Lucy (Kristin Davis), who married right after high school, each try to get it on with their respective massage therapists. But all must also bare their souls, which feels wedged-in and unconvincing compared to the proliferation of physical humor.
Faizon Love rounds out the group as the divorced Shane, who brings along his 20-year-old girlfriend, Trudy (Kali Hawk), a shrill party girl who likes to call him "Daddy" and pour hot wax on his naked chest.
Each of these characters is exactly the same person the whole way through, until one night when they all magically experience an epiphany that makes them more communicative, patient and loving. During such moments, a distracting, feel-good score _ surprisingly from "Slumdog Millionaire" Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman _ pipes in early and often.
"Couples Retreat" makes fun of the people who run the place, including the New Age-y mastermind, Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno in a braided tail and a Speedo), and the condescending concierge, Sctanley (Peter Serafinowicz) _ spelled with a "c." But ultimately it embraces the very lessons the resort is trying to teach. It also finds time for a little shameless product placement along the way: an extended ad for "Guitar Hero," right as the movie is approaching its big, revelatory climax.
A few funny lines and ideas emerge here and there _ the rigid Jason's fondness for PowerPoint presentations is vaguely amusing _ but "Couples Retreat" mostly feels repetitive and overlong at nearly two hours. You wouldn't mind getting voted off this island.
"Couples Retreat," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 on appeal for sexual content and language. Running time: 110 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.