By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Peter Billingsley
STARS Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau
Regardless of how her career progresses, Kristen Bell at least has had the fortune of heading off to Hawaii to film Forgetting Sarah Marshall and now Bora Bora to shoot Couples Retreat. Those are enviable assignments for any young performer, and it begs the question: Does her Hollywood agent work a second job as a travel agent?
Magnificent scenery is indeed one of the pleasures of Couples Retreat, with a character even quipping that the view looks like a screen saver. Yet for all its visual splendor, to say nothing of its likable cast, the movie never feels as liberating as its locale. Working from a script by Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Dana Fox, director Peter Billingsley (A Christmas Story's Ralphie, all grown up) oversees the project more like a foreman making sure the product gets turned out rather than a filmmaker injecting any personal style into the proceedings, leaving it to certain capable actors to provide any juice via well-timed witticisms and double takes.
The premise finds married couple Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Bell) imploring their friends to join them on a vacation to an oceanic paradise where the purpose is to reconnect spouses experiencing turbulence in their unions. The other six overworked but content couple Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Ackerman), bickering spouses Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), and divorcé Shane (Faizon Love) and his 20-year-old girlfriend Trudy (Kali Hawk) are led to believe that the workshops and counseling sessions are optional; they're only there for the buffets and the water skiing, but they quickly learn that everyone is required to take part in the team-building activities. Before long, nerves are frayed, feelings are hurt, and all the relationships teeter on the edge of disaster.
Amidst all the low-simmer shenanigans, Couples Retreat does make some salient (if obvious) points about the inherent difficulties in keeping any marriage fresh and vital. The movie would have benefited from a more realistic ending than the feel-good slop force-fed to audiences by the heaping spoonful, but along the way, it at least feints in the direction of testiness before backing off.
The characters played by Bateman and Hawk are too annoying to be funny, while Bell herself is too bland to be anything. But Ackerman and Love are pleasing to watch, while the lion's share of the barbs are adroitly handled by Davis, Favreau and Vaughn. Ultimately, though, Couples Retreat is too mellow for its own good. Hardly paradise, it's more like the cinematic equivalent of a leisurely walk around the park.