It looks like Ralphie Parker is all grown up as Peter Billingsley makes his feature film directorial debut with the Universal Pictures comedy Couples Retreat and while it is extraordinarily sloppy and falls all over itself in the final moments I had a fair amount of fun with it over the course of the film’s first three-quarters.
Couples Retreat centers on a group of four couples who make way for an island getaway. One couple (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) is questioning their marriage and ask their friends to tag along so they can get a group rate with the assumption that while they are sorting out their marital issues the others can enjoy a week of fun in the sun. Of course it doesn’t work out that way, all four couples end up taking part in therapy sessions and things play out pretty much as you would expect. This, while predictable, is made enjoyable primarily thanks to quality additions from Faizon Love and Vince Vaughn.
As soon as I told this to a friend she immediately wondered, “What about Jason Bateman?” I certainly feel there is no bigger Bateman fan than myself, but in this film the circumstances of his character’s relationship don’t open the doors for much comedy. The majority of the laughs are designated to Vaughn and Love as the trials and tribulations of both Bateman and Bell’s relationship and the domestic squabbling between Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis serve as the plot’s catalysts.
However, beyond the laughs and the to-be-expected cliched, over-the-top and all out dreadful finale, the largest problem Couples Retreat suffers from is plain and simple shoddy filmmaking. I have no idea if most of this falls on the shoulders of Billingsley or if mandatory cuts and reshoots were placed on his shoulders turning this film into a patchwork with noticeable flaws.
From one scene where Love’s head blocks most of the screen, noticeable ADR work with which the words being spoken obviously did not match the actors’ lips and moments that just didn’t look like they fit from one cut to the next this film reeks of amateurism. It sounds like nit-picking but it’s distracting. The film had a bout with the MPAA that caused it to go from an R-rating to its current PG-13, what was cut or changed (if anything) is unknown, but it doesn’t take a trained eye to notice something is up.
Despite all these issues, any time Love or Vaughn were on screen there were enough laughs to keep me entertained. Vaughn isn’t as unhinged as he has become in his two most recent outings (Four Christmases and Fred Claus) and Love — whose character is in a relationship with a 20-something played by Kali Hawk — adds a bit of character to the film when compared to what is nothing more than your typical group of movie couples.
Couples Retreat is by no means a great movie, but if a brainless, by-the-book laughter diversion interests you it fills the bill. It wouldn’t be my first choice when heading to the theater, but you could certainly do much worse.