'Couples Retreat': Trouble (Times Four) In Paradise

W: Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman in 'Couples Retreat'

Tropical treatment: Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) go looking for rest and relaxation at a South Pacific resort — only to be swept into a surprisingly brutal regimen of mandatory couples therapy. John Johnson/Universal Studios hide caption

itoggle caption John Johnson/Universal Studios

Couples Retreat

  • Director: Peter Billingsley
  • Genre: Romantic farce
  • Running Time: 107 minutes

Rated PG-13: Partial nudity, sexual situations and potty jokes

With: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis

You'd think the languid rhythms of a South Seas island would be ideal for a frazzled couple seeking reinvigoration. But they prove fatal to Couples Retreat, a would-be farce that barely has the energy to reach for another sip of pina colada.

The adventure begins, sluggishly, with the introduction of four 40-ish suburban twosomes in various states of unraveling. Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman), who have two young sons, are fairly happy, although Dave works too many hours and doesn't show enough interest in Ronnie's redecorating plans.

Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), who have a teenage daughter, likewise seem OK, although Joey will soon reveal an unseemly interest in other women. But Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell), frustrated by their failure to conceive a child, are considering a split, and the freshly divorced Shane (Faizon Love) has rebounded with 20-year-old Trudy (Kali Hawk), who seems way too frisky for him.

Jason and Cynthia announce that they're going to undertake couples therapy at a sumptuous resort called Eden — thankfully it's not the one from 1994's Exit to Eden, where Dana Delany was the resident dominatrix and the hapless Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O'Donnell sported S&M leathers — and they convince their friends to accompany them, promising that the other couples can just relax.

But Marcel (Jean Reno), the South Pacific island's "couples whisperer," overrules that pledge. All married couples who arrive at Eden must engage in various trust exercises, he announces — swimming with sharks is one notable example. (Meanwhile, singles get to party nonstop, a system of apartheid that torments Joey.)

It's a funny idea to cast Reno, one of French cinema's leading tough guys, as a new-age relationship guru. But the joke sputters in the execution, because the script — by Vaughn, Favreau and Dana Fox — gives the actor precious little to do.

Malin Ackerman, Kristin Bell, Jason Bateman and Jean Reno in 'Couples Retreat' i i

Resort relationship counselor Marcel (Jean Reno, right) forces visiting couples (including Kristen Bell and Jason Bateman, center) to engage in a series of "trust exercises" — one of which results in a tense run-in with a shark. John Johnson/Universal Studios hide caption

itoggle caption John Johnson/Universal Studios
Malin Ackerman, Kristin Bell, Jason Bateman and Jean Reno in 'Couples Retreat'

Resort relationship counselor Marcel (Jean Reno, right) forces visiting couples (including Kristen Bell and Jason Bateman, center) to engage in a series of "trust exercises" — one of which results in a tense run-in with a shark.

John Johnson/Universal Studios

Also on Marcel's agenda are sessions with hostile psychologists, semi-erotic massages and yoga lessons that border on rape: Brawny instructor Salvadore (Carlos Ponce) gets too intimate not only with his hands but also with other body parts. This is standard fare in recent bad-boy comedies, which depend heavily on the manly horror of other men's privates. Yet Couples Retreat is surprisingly restrained, avoiding full-frontal nudity and restricting its toilet humor to a single gag involving a preschooler. That doesn't mean the movie is tasteful, though — just that its boorishness lacks conviction.

First-time feature director Peter Billingsley could have enlivened the action with more vigorous editing. Everything takes too long, and the slapstick sequences are particularly lethargic.

But there's only so much that can be done to energize a sex farce whose message is that marriage is good, and squabbling couples should give it another chance. You needn't travel all the way to the South Pacific for that lesson. Maybe that's why it takes Couples Retreat so long to leave the suburbs — because on some level the four couples know that the therapy sessions they are about to experience might as well be held at the Pleasantville Holiday Inn.

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