2009 | Director: Peter Billingsley | Writers: Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”), Vince Vaughn (The Break-Up”) and Jon Favreau (“Swingers”)
The fatal flaw in the otherwise-pleasantly bland “Couples Retreat” is what I like to refer to as Too Many Main Characters in the Same Movie Syndrome, or TMMCSMS. “Batman & Robin” suffered from TMMCSMS, as did “Pearl Harbor” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan”–the common thread between those films being that none of them won the Palme d‘Or at Cannes. Such a fate is destined for “Retreat” as well, though it’s doubtful that masterminds Vince Vaughn (“Clay Pigeons”) and Jon Favreau (director of “Elf”) were expecting anything other than a quick buck or 34.3 million.
“Retreat” stars Vaughn, Favreau, hot commodity Jason Bateman (TV’s “The Hogan Family”), and token minority Faizon Love as four unlikely friends who set off, along with significant others played by Malin Akerman (“Watchmen”), Kristin Davis (“Sex and the City”), Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), and Kali Hawk, for the exotic island of Eden for a week of couple’s therapy at the behest of Bateman and Bell, whose marriage is in the tank due to their infertility. But wait, there are more actors: Jean Reno (“Godzilla”) plays island owner and holistic nut job Marcel; Peter Serafinowicz is the resort manager; and Temuera Morrison (“Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”) slums around as Marcel’s bodyguard. Oh, and comedians John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong play significant roles as island therapists. Also, Tasha Smith plays Love’s ex-wife, who may or may not want him back after crushing his delicate heart in a brutal divorce. And there’s a greasy yoga instructor played by Carlos Ponce, who, disconcertingly, insists upon wearing a series of neon-colored banana hammocks. TMMCSMS to the max.
Being that there is so little time for any personal arcs, the characters are drawn extra broadly so that it only takes a few seconds at the end of “Retreat” to wrap up the loose ends. Can control freak Bateman and put-upon wife Bell relax? Can chronic cheaters Favreau and Davis put the clamps on their wandering groins long enough to remember why they married in the first place? Can Vaughn and Akerman learn to focus on each other a little more in the maelstrom of their busy lives? Can black people also be in the movie, please, lest audiences find the whole “white friends on vacation” theme a little too racially exclusionary? (Test groups must have thought so!)
The thing is, “Retreat” really isn’t a bad movie. It’s rushed, scatterbrained, and oh-so-lowbrow, but the banter between the actors is mostly friendly, good-natured stuff, where it really seems as though the film was just an excuse for Vaughn and Favreau to get some of their comedian buddies together and go on an actual vacation in Tahiti, turn on some cameras, and do some improv. It looks like they’re having fun, and, embarrassingly for me, it’s a little contagious. Maybe it could have been a more significant, thoughtful, or intelligent comedy if there were seven or eight less main characters, but who wants to see any of those things, anyway?
So the theory is upheld: TMMCSMS disallows any sort of quality of product. It just doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have a decent time zoning out and watching the many stars of “Retreat” loaf around and enjoy themselves.
(One note of interest about “Retreat”: it was directed by Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” If that fact alone makes you want to see it, you should probably go get a CAT scan.)
Rating: Two and a Half Stars out of Five