Most modern comedies are like a trendy and overpriced tourist trap. They suck you in, promising the time of your life, and instead leave you with the feeling that you’ve wasted too much money on said time. Couples Retreat however, actually delivered what it promised: a few laughs, beautiful scenery, and a good time all around — without that hollow “I just wasted two hours of my existence” feeling afterward. Star Vince Vaughn also produced and co-wrote the film, and heads off a suitably-cast combination of talented comedians including Jon Favreau (another co-writer), and Jason Bateman.
The plot is as simple as you can get: four couples, each amid their own form of marital strife, set out to the tropical paradise of Eden. For Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, respectively), the whole vacation seems more or less like an ambush set by their Powerpoint Presentation-obsessed friends, Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell). The latter couple has planned the whole group effort in order to save money while they ponder over the status of their relationship, which has grown decidedly tense (although you can’t tell, being as they’re robots) since they’ve discovered they cannot conceive children.
The third couple, Joey (Jon Favreau) and his wife Lucy (Kristen Davis), have reached that point in a typical married-too-young relationship: they hate each other, and are just looking to get laid — preferably by somebody else. The last pair is that of a fresh one — but an unhealthy one nonetheless. Shane (Faizon Love) is a broke, overweight, and out-of-shape divorcee who has begun dating 20-year-old party girl Trudy (Kali Hawk), whom he can’t seem to keep up with.
Unfortunately for all, Eden (or Eden West, as we soon learn) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Granted, everything to be found there is all-inclusive (e.g. the Five Star food, drinks, and leisurely activities), but it does not consist of frolicking in the sun and surf, downing as many tropical drinks as one can stomach (and then some), and nights upon night of promiscuous college-aged behavior (all of which can be found at Eden East, the lively singles paradise across the bay). Instead, Eden West is something of a relationship healing workshop, run by the eccentric spiritual guru/yoga expert/couples counselor, Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno).
The fun activities Jason and Cynthia promised are not to be had. The daily routine consists of getting up at the crack of dawn, partaking in mandatory (and embarrassing) partner activities, followed by a session with an assigned marriage therapist (two of whom are played by comics John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong). This, of course, does not fare well with most of the guys, who begin to think that Monsieur Marcel and his therapists are out to ruin their relationships. The ladies, on the other hand, begin to question whether or not their vows were taken lightly. And with a horny muscular yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce) keen to take the ladies away to “entertain” them, the men realize that it’s time to man up and win the approval of their beloved significant others once and for all — even if they have to sneak over to Eden East like a group of teenage boys at camp or challenge employees to a riveting game of Guitar Hero to do so! The great Peter Serafinowicz also stars as a rather Nazi-like host, and Temuera Morrison has a small role as Jean Reno’s assistant.
In short, Couples Retreat sets out what it aims to do: entertain. It’s not Class-A material, but the stars deliver believable performances and seem to have a good time doing so in the process (besides, they got to film a movie in the beautiful island of Bora-Bora, which is not something every actor gets to do). The writing — while pretty average for a rom com — is decent enough to keep things interesting, although it comes awfully close to being your typical “Vince Vaughn Comedy” from time to time (although, I’ll take a “Vince Vaughn Comedy” over a “Ben Stiller Comedy” any ol’ day — Dodgeball counts as a “Ben Stiller Comedy,” just so we’re clear there).
Plus, you get to see Jean Reno in Speedos. Oh, be still, my beating heart.
The lush tropical setting of Bora-Bora is already a vision of paradise as it is, but Universal’s stellar Blu-ray presentation of Couples Retreat manages to up-sell the beauty of the island. The movie is presented in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer and the colors here are outstanding. The colors (especially the blues and greens of the tranquil tropical waters) will have you wishing you could walk into the movie through your television set, while the contrast and definition is as solid as any High Def snob could hope for. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack also fares well — and, whether you’re being whisked away to the South Pacific (somebody cue up “Bali Hai,” quick!) via surround-channel sound effects, or rocking to the sounds of Billy Squier during the climactic Guitar Hero duel, chances are you’ll be happy. And besides, any film that opens with David Bowie’s “Modern Love” blasting through your home is OK by me.
Special features for Couples Retreat begin with a Picture-In-Picture video commentary (part of Universal’s U-Control feature) with Vince Vaughn and director Peter Billingsly. It’s a rather dry commentary, to say the least, and those of you expecting Vaughn to be crackin’ the jokes are in for a disappointment. Also submitted for your approval are several deleted scenes and an alternate ending (with optional audio commentary by Vaughn and Billingsly); the proverbial gag reel (which isn’t as funny as I thought it’d be, but provides a few chuckles regardless; and three featurettes (“Therapy’s Greatest Hits,” “Paradise Found: Filming In Bora-Bora,” and “Behind The Yoga”) that will either be a hit-or-miss with you, depending on your point of view (they were mostly a “miss” with me, in case you were wondering). The 50GB disc also supports BD-Live as well as a Pocket Blu feature for those of you who can’t seem to put down your damn mobile phones.
In closing, Couples Retreat may be a bit too adult-themed for a PG-13 film (in my opinion). A couple of comical moments wherein Jon Favreau tries to get a “happy ending” from his masseuse, and gets caught while trying to masturbate are definitely not something most parents would feel entirely comfortable watching in the presence of their teens (so use caution, parents). Inappropriate moments not withstanding, Couples Retreat could have been better. But, in the long run, it’s a pleasant enough film that makes a swell pick for date night.
Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than actually booking a trip to Bora-Bora.