Back in the day when they were younger and thinner, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn worked together as both the stars and the brains behind such hits as Made and Swingers. Those films were celebrated being male and single, so to find them reunited here in Couples Retreat is something of a shocker since it is all about family, love and loyalty. This one directed by Peter Billingsley, and written by Favreau and Vaughn themselves, comes off as a safe, almost worthwhile tropical adventure.
Joining them is a whole cast of famous faces who together tell the tale of four couples who go on an island getaway in hopes of saving their respective relationships. The first act is a total waste as we get the obligatory boring set up and the less than believable explanation as to how all eight of these people can coordinate this spur of the moment vacation. After that, luckily, the script finds a rhythm and begins to pick up speed. The couples, Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis), Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman), Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristin Bell) and Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk), do actually feel like fleshed out characters and not just stereotypes.
Once they land in paradise the problems begin to pile up. First there is that little overlooked detail that the couples’ therapy is mandatory and not something that can just be blown off. This allows the writers to push their characters through an obstacle course of rather ridiculous, sporadically funny activities. The idea of forcing a person to swim with sharks, or deal with a horny yoga instructor, as a way to fix marital problems is not instinctively laugh inducing but isn’t a total dud either and since this is a mainstream comedy it is only fitting that Ken Jeong shows up to play one of the shrinks.
He and his miracle worker of an agent have now landed roles in eight movies just since last summer. As could be predicted, the more these couples try and make their relationships work the further apart they seem to drift. Jason and Cynthia, whose idea it was to come originally, are really torn to shreds as Jason is shown to be a corporate speaking control freak. We the viewers are encouraged to root for Dave and Ronnie, the every-couple, and both of them do a good job at being likeable. But ultimately it is hard to feel bad for any of these couples as their lives seem so fruitful and their problems so insignificant. There’s also a feeling of laziness that hangs over this film. Almost every joke goes with the most obvious third beat and relies upon the delivery of the actor to produce laughs.
It is more than a little disappointing that with four couples and four conclusions to work with Vaughn and Favreau could find nothing more interesting to say about the modern relationship than "monogamy is awesome." Occasionally they concede that people will inevitably have to sow their wild oats, but all in all this is a full-throated rally cry for bourgeois values. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially if they truly believe in what they are hawking. But what do you think is more likely; that this film is an honest representation of their belief systems as it pertains to sexual politics or that Universal Pictures decided that the best way to draw in that female demographic would be to pander to their hopes and dreams?
The best part of this movie is probably Favreau’s portrayal of Joey. He is so much fun to watch as the embodiment of repressed middle-aged male sexuality. Life for Joey consists of hitting on dangerously young girls, masturbating while his wife showers, and trying to sweet talk his way into a happy ending with his masseuse. Again, not that there’s anything wrong with that, only the people behind this movie think that there is as he is eventually given a very stern talking to by Dave and is shown to be a pathetic pile of insecurity. We can’t all be swingers forever but Vaughn and Favreau as the new face of family values is almost too much to bear.
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Malin Ackerman, Jason Bateman, Kristin Bell
Director: Peter Billingsley
Runtime: 113 minutes