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REVIEW: Couples Retreat

Oct. 9 2009, Published 11:31 a.m. ET

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If fixing relationships was as easy as flying to the tropics, facing adversity and washing it down with a yummy, fruity cocktail, couples could weather anything.

Sadly, real life isn’t anything like the intermittently comical, easy paradise of Couples Retreat. The adventures kick off when the uptight Cynthia (Kristen Bell) and Jason (Jason Bateman) admit that they’re on the brink of divorce, and convince three other couples to join them on a holiday to save their marriage. Only a group rate will allow them to go, so with some guilt-tripping and promises of jet-skis and sunshine, it’s off to “Eden” -- aka The Most Boring Place on Earth.

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There, the couples are inexplicably forced to follow the island’s treatment program, which includes sunrise meetings with guru Marcel (Jean Reno), therapy sessions (the dress code evokes Star Trek, if Kirk and Uhura were sushi chefs) and wacky group exercises that involve everything from dropping trou to sexy-time yoga. Instead of fun in the sun, the vacation becomes a new-age Guantanamo where everyone’s problems bubble up, and all four couples -- including our doomed, pinched-face pair -- unravel amid the palm trees.

Despite the exotic setting, Couples Retreat takes aim at the most basic issues we face once we’ve traded party-hopping for trips to Home Depot: growing apart, bedroom boredom, conception struggles and balancing domestic duties with romantic urges. In the hands of stars like Faizon Love (Shane), Malin Akerman (Ronnie) and Vince Vaughn (Dave), each couple’s troubles are relatable and, mostly, funny. When Cynthia and Jason queue up a powerpoint preso to explain their marriage problems -- and graphically quantify the potential effects of divorce -- you don’t have to be a white-collar veteran to crack up. Up-and-comer Kali Hawk (Trudy), meanwhile, is like an energy elixir, perking up scenes that sag beneath heavy-handed antics.

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Yet, as Dave repeats throughout the movie, relationships take work. Some of them have fault lines so deep that not even island rum and one-liners can fill the cracks. Lucy (Kristin Davis) and Joey (Jon Favreau, who also co-wrote the film), for example, seethe with the kind of latent anger and suffer battle wounds so fresh that, despite incredible delivery of tight banter, broad comedy can’t quite support them. While Couples Retreat strives to guide us from tenderness to hilarity and back, the characters take on a sit-commy, wooden feel so that, by movie’s end, home-wrecking in paradise doesn’t seem so bad.

Island life, however, isn’t all gloom and doom: Couples Retreat is, to borrow from the film, like an accessible Sandals resort, versus a Club Med’s richer offerings. Vaughn, who also co-wrote and produced the movie, serves as its keel on unpredictable seas, righting the ship with subtlety and timing that are at times genius. The way he pokes fun at all-too-familiar, trying situations allows us to laugh at ourselves, even if Mai Tais and white sand can’t solve everything.



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