Couples Retreat (DVD)

Fourteen years ago, Vaughn and Favreau brought us Swingers, a low budget indie that hit its targets with precision - by turns acerbic, biting, charming and frequently hilarious, This was their gateway to the big time and since then most of their efforts have turned to mush - formulaic Hollywood fodder.

Couples Retreat is no exception. It's easy on the eye and a pleasant enough distraction but also witless and indeed bloodless, a dialogue-heavy treatise on relationships with few gags to leaven it. Four couples go on a retreat to a luxury island getaway (actually Bora Bora). Most of them think it will be holiday leisure time for a week but in reality they are put through counselling sessions every day to delineate what is wrong in their respective relationships.

Bateman's union with Bell lacks spontaneity and warmth, the pressure of trying to conceive proving a difficult barrier. Vaughn is too pigheaded, taking his wife Akerman for granted. Favreau and Davis married young, straight after high school, and now regret the fact that they missed out on youthful indiscretions, while overweight Love has recently split from his partner and is there with his new 20-year-old girlfriend (Hawk) whom he only met two weeks previously.

Gradually we see the cracks in their respective pairings, but there's precious little humour to make us like them. The performers try hard and the locations are certainly attractive but a stronger comic sensibility would have been welcome. There are many missed opportunities here. Reno is miscast as a pretentious guru while Serafinowicz is given precious little room to display his comedy talents as an unctuous hotel manager.

What with the exotic setting and Bell featured in the cast, this effort will inevitably be compared to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was funny and highly enjoyable. Alas, Couples Retreat doesn't come anywhere near it for appeal or affability. It's mildly agreeable on occasion but hardly persuasive. In all, a damp squib.
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SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor ***
While it's not a work of complete and utter genius, Couples Retreat is not the disaster that Doug makes it out to be. Yes, it's a pretty disappoiinting effort from the guys who brought us Swingers, but as this style of comedy goes, it's decent enough. The scenery is gorgous, and there are enough laughs to be had that boredom never gets a look-in. And hey, any film that gives us both Kristen Bell AND Kristen Davis in bikinis is not all that bad ... although, to be honest, Davis is looking VERY thin these days. Has she been getting such a small amount of work since the Sex & The City days that she can't afford to buy food?

EXTRAS **** A pretty good selection of goodies ... there is an audio commentary with director Billingsley and star/cowriter Vaughn; an alternate ending, Back in Chicago, with an optional commentary; a gag reel; extended scenes; deleted scenes; a featurette called Therapy's Greatest Hits; a making-of featurette called Paradise Found: Filming in Bora Bora; a featurette called Behind The Yoga.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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