The marital comedy Couples Retreat features a running gag about a little boy in the midst of potty training who doesn’t always go where it’s appropriate. In a nutshell, that subplot explains everything that’s wrong about the film: Its propensity for barrel-scraping lowbrow gags, its undisciplined, catch-all approach to comedy, and perhaps above all, its chronic inability to focus on what it’s ostensibly about, and cut away the extraneous stuff. Dealing with four relationships on the fritz—to say nothing of the friendships and rivalries within the group as a whole—is more than enough movie without adding potty-training jokes, a humping yoga instructor, improvised riffs about Applebee’s, and a Guitar Hero showdown that doubles as a commercial. Then again, when a movie is all fat, it’s hard to know where to trim.
Stranding a gifted cast on an all-inclusive trip to comedy hell, Couples Retreat turns on the not-terrible idea of four couples heading to an impossibly gorgeous tropical getaway that doubles as a touchy-feely therapy resort. The catalysts for this journey are Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell, who seem compatibly uptight, but announce that they’re headed for divorce if they don’t take this final shot at saving their marriage. With a little cajoling via PowerPoint presentation, their friends agree to go in on the group rate, but don’t realize until they arrive that they’re expected to join in on the therapy sessions, too. Turns out all of them need it: Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman have allowed parenthood and work to downgrade their marriage, former high-school sweethearts Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis are still sowing their wild oats with other partners, and Faizon Love is getting over a failed relationship by dating a 20-year-old (Kali Hawk) who calls him “Daddy.”
In their few exchanges together, longtime collaborators Vaughn and Favreau (who get script credits, too) have a casual, joshing chemistry that throws the rest of the movie into sharp relief. The couples in the film seem mated in captivity, and that goes double for the group dynamic, which is strained and awkward well before a New Age Frenchman (Jean Reno) and a Speedo-wearing Fabio-type make them look really uncomfortable. It’s hard to know if more convincing relationships would have made a difference in a movie so committed to funny accents and potty jokes, but at least it would have shown some effort.