Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vaughn & Company Make This A Laughable Retreat For Couples

Based on an original idea of Vaughn's, the comedy, Couples Retreat, follows four Midwestern couples who embark on a journey to a tropical island resort. While one of the couples is there to work on their marriage, the other three set out to jet ski, spa and enjoy some fun in the sun. They soon discover that participation in the resorts couples therapy is not optional. Suddenly, their group-rate vacation comes at a price. What follows is a hilarious look at real world problems faced by all couples.

Greatly silly and unexpectedly wise at times, Couples Retreat opens with a credit sequence featuring David Bowie's single "Modern Love." There's a good reason. This is less a romantic comedy than a timely maintenance comedy. Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Jon Favreau head a cast of faulty pairs who wind up at a resort for couples. Their counterparts are played by Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis, respectively. Also along for the misadventure: recently divorced friend Shane (Faizon Love) and his too-young paramour. Over the last few years, Vaughn has taken on the relationship comedy as a star, a producer and theorist of contemporary love. "The Break-Up," with Jennifer Aniston, was the most ambitious. Taking the contempt a couple might begin to feel for each other to heart, it turned out to be a very dark comedy. And last year's "Four Christmases" was the meanest, with its funny class riffs. Couples Retreat, which Vaughn co-wrote with Favreau and Dana Fox, may not be overly ambitious. It isn't nearly as pretty as the island the couples visit. Shot in Bora Bora, the sea is an uncanny azure, the sands pristine. The villas assigned to the couples are the stuff of the Conde Nast Traveler's "Room With View" feature. But the film makes up for that with a fine dose of (occasionally bitter) sweetness and a buoyant raft of witty lines. The joke is on the three couples who agreed to take the trip in support of their tightly wound friends Jason (a typically agile Bateman) and Cynthia.

They believed the "couples skill building" courses were optional. They're not. All of them must participate: Joey and Lucy, who are just waiting for their teen daughter to go to college to call it quits; frisky and foolish Shane and Trudy; and Dave and Ronnie, a couple able to maintain a decent batting average, making contact with life's curveballs more often than not. In a bit of delicious counter- casting, Jean Reno is couples guru Marcel. The writers maintain a good balance between making fun of the couples' discomfort with therapy and teasing the silliness of the resort and its staff. Couples Retreat seems primed to make sport of couples counseling. Kudos to the actors playing the therapists. Two you'll recognize: John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong. And while it has its fun with the discomfort that comes of talking things through, the comedy takes the work of relationship surprisingly seriously. That admitted, fear not. There are plenty of dippy riffs. The couples don Chinese-style uniforms for their counseling sessions. A trust exercise with fish goes amusingly awry. The ripped yoga master (Carlo Ponce) has a sculpted bod and the tatty locks of Fabio. "The Wizard of Oz" gets a nod. And in a script that swings from high to low and back again, Harriet Tubman gets a shout-out, too. The video game Guitar Hero gets a full-on, shredding close-up. There are bawdy moments that barely skirted an R. And the ethnic shtick is occasionally too broad, but hardly cruel. Newcomer Kali Hawk is too loud by a few decibels as Trudy. But husky Shane is likable even as he confuses an extended booty call for a heart- mending romance. The director is Peter Billingsley — Ralphie in the holiday classic "A Christmas Story." A producer making his directorial debut, he does an able job of keeping things moving. He even winks at his own child stardom by gently mining an impossibly cute turn by Colin Baiocchi as Dave and Ronnie's youngest.  What the unfettered will take away from Couples Retreat is anybody's guess. Maybe they'll consider it a funny "but for the grace of God" cautionary tale.For couples, it may be the oddest of hybrids: a too-close- to-home, yet goofball, date movie. This gets a hilarious 4 on my "Go See" scale.

No comments: