“Couples Retreat,” a painfully unfunny comedy, is a lazy and slapped-together movie. It is constructed around scenes of wasted opportunity and characters with no vitality or humor.

Vince Vaughn, who wrote the script along with co-star Jon Favreau, has to shoulder a lot of the blame. Vaughn, so lively and uninhibited in movies like “The Wedding Crashers” and “Old School”, seems stifled here as a leading man. I can’t help but think that maybe Vaughn would be better served by going back to playing sidekick to actors like Owen Wilson. Vaughn drowns here trying to support the plot and worst of all, does not seem capable of setting others up for laughs.

What is even more frustrating is that instead of at least taking the opportunity to try something new, Vaughn’s Dave fits directly into his increasingly unfunny comfort zone. Dave is a self-involved workingman who meets anyone who suggests that his priorities are out of whack with incredulity. Sounds kind of familiar right?

Directed by:Peter Billingsley
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Faizon Love, Kristin Davis
Runtime: 107 min
Rated: PG-13

While there are a couple of moments where Vaughn shows off the rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness delivery that seemed so fresh a few years ago, it is all rather joyless. Vaughn is just giving the audience what he thinks they want.

The only time the film clicks, is when it puts the whole cast together – something it doesn’t do very often. The film’s best scene has the four couples responding to an overly amorous and inappropriate yoga instructor. It is one of the few moments where the entire cast is given an opportunity to play off of each other, which I found ridiculous, considering the fact the movie is being sold as a gathering of really cool actors.

There are far too many scenes of couples therapy that aren’t funny and don’t take advantage of the gorgeous island location- for a movie set in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, too much of the action takes place indoors. I can’t help but think that the movie was written that way so the actors could enjoy as much beach time as possible- hardly the thinking you want screenwriters basing script decisions on.

Favreau and Vaughn have some nice moments together, but it is more due to their natural chemistry than anything that is in the script and there work here is light years away from their classic pairings in “Swingers” and “Made”.

Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell do solid work as Jason and Cynthia, the uptight and uber-organized couple that plans the retreat to help their marriage. Bell in particular adds some genuine emotion to the more serious scenes, which almost made me believe her marriage to Jason – she definitely deserves better material.
First-time director Peter Billingsley (yes the guy who played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”) does a decent job keeping the film moving but misses a few chances for some big laughs, particularly a scene involving a guitar hero battle between Vaughn and an employee at the resort. Billingsley’s direction robs Vaughn of any chance to cut loose and have fun. Like a lot of the film, the scene is all set up and no punch line.

I would love to think that “Couples Retreat” will serve as a wake-up call for Vince Vaughn and that next year we will get something funny and daring from an actor who used to be both. Then again, I said the same thing last year after seeing the horrendously wretched “Four Christmases”. I shudder when I think about what we might be subjected to next.

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