Early on in “Couples Retreat,” Vince Vaughn’s character finds himself in a housewares store, where his young son has used a toilet meant only for display. “There’s not a lot to say,” Vaughn forthrightly tells a galled clerk, by way of apology. That’s pretty much what it’s like to review “Couples Retreat.” When confronted with an exasperating, almost cute, innocently impolite public excretion, the strong temptation is just to let the act speak for itself and quickly withdraw.
But that might seem lazy, so here’s more.
After a brisk couples-through-the-ages montage and many long and leaden minutes of setup (not a lot to say, apparently, but much to do), four couples come to a tropical resort, where their collective vacation briskly becomes many long and leaden minutes of marriage-repair therapy. One of the couples–it doesn’t matter which–has been on the verge of divorce, and the only recourse was to drag the others along for some “skill-building” on the beach at the more affordable group rate. Well, you get what you pay for.
This may sound like the pretext for a torture-porn horror thriller, and certain audiences inevitably will see it as such. What it’s supposed to be is a romantic comedy of classical appeal. What it is, really, is more like a half-assed update of “Fantasy Island,” somehow both shriveled to short-sitcom proportions and bloated to feature-film length.
The director is Peter Billingsley. (I went into this hoping not to mention “A Christmas Story” at all, as a way of allowing Billingsley’s adulthood and multidisciplinary career the benefit of the doubt. Now it seems the best way to do that might be to not mention “Couples Retreat” at all. But I’m committed.) The stars are Vaughn and Jon Favreau (who wrote the script together, with Dana Fox), Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell and Kali Hawk. They’re all perfectly easy to like (although a nagging voice in the back of the head may ask whether Bateman’s recent big-screen ubiquity finally has overstayed its welcome), and just as easy to forget. That also goes for Peter Serafinowicz as their punctilious host, Jean Reno as their “Couples Whisperer” guru, and Carlos Ponce as a buff, inappropriate yoga instructor. Among the plot points, in addition to some boilerplate romantic recriminations, are a shark attack, a Guitar Hero showdown and a general sense of Vaughn and Favreau coming to terms with not being in “Swingers” anymore.
Even still, “Couples Retreat” sometimes gives off an air of self-satisfaction. It’s a mild air, like a warm island breeze, and seems to be the natural result of good pals having a good time in a good place making a movie that’s just not good.
Vaughn in particular lately has seemed increasingly at ease with squandering his gifts. His way of not being bothered by mediocrity almost is charming in and of itself. Which is not to say it should be rewarded. Real couples in need of retreat from busy but average lives will recognize themselves in his character’s avowal, during that protracted prologue, to “buckle down over these next six months, and then when we come up for air, we’ll go somewhere.” Indeed, getting away from it all isn’t easy. Start by getting away from this movie.