Director: Peter Billingsley

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Malin Akerman, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Jon Favreau, Kristin Davis, Faizon Love, Tasha Smith

About 10 years ago, I saw the movie Deep Blue Sea with the reasonable expectation that I was going to see one of my favorite actors and the film’s main stars, Samuel L. Jackson, kick some ass.  Instead, he was one of the first person’ to die…from a shark out of the water.  Great.  I found out later that Jackson had only agreed to be in the movie because there was a great golf course in the area, and was more than happy to cut out early.  I had never thought of movie making as an excuse for a vacation before this.

Watching Couples Retreat, Sam Jackson ran through my mind a lot.  Clearly the cast was having a blast while making the film.  This goes a long way to explain the success of such a modestly ambitious effort.  Released in late fall, early winter 2009, the makers know that there are a plethora of couples in the world not doing much at that time.  Why not make a little film in a hot spot with blue water (Bora Bora) and allow others to live vicariously through you.  It succeeded.  Couples Retreat took in almost $200 million and no one’s the wiser, but more importantly, no one is harmed.  In short, I liked this simple movie, if for no other reason, it was not trying to deceive me.

Peter Billingsley, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are good friends who have been making films together since they were teenagers.  They work well together, and their energy is well dispersed amongst the rest of the cast here.  This is a perfect movie for the talents of Vaughn, who does as little acting as possible because the screenplay (written by Vince, Favreau and Dana Fox) allows so much room to breathe, you get the feeling of friendship instead of the feeling of acting.  That is important.

A perfect example is a scene involving Vaughn and Peter Serafinowicz, playing a Mr. Rourke kind of guy who lays down rules that he is caught breaking in a later scene.  A lesser movie would have made his character, “Stanley, spelled with a C” some sort of Frank Burns knock off.  Instead, what we have is a sequence that helps to develop his character, while leaving Vaughn in tact.  It is a hard thing to exhibit that much confidence in your characters that you allow them to become people, instead of caricatures.

What is this film trying to accomplish?  Are we really watching this film for the lessons learned, the hugs given and the love that is renewed?  Are we expecting more than cereal box wisdom about the life cycles of couples here?  Well, if you are, then prepare to enjoy nice scenery as you are disappointed.

The women in this film all come off as intelligent.  That is a nice change of pace.  No matter the situation, it looks like they are motivated by more than just what the script tells them to say.  Are they Rhode’s Scholars?  Not quite.  More like housewives, who work, have expectations, make good decisions and mistakes and still love their men who do the same.  I really enjoy Kristin Davis, and was happy to see her play more than Charlotte in this film.

Yeah, I am looking at Kristin Davis.

The men have their roles somewhat more boxed in for this film.  Bateman, of course, is anal-retentive about his relationship.  Favreau is what you’d expect of a former jock.  Vince is the catch all, not perfect, but knows it and is comfortable with it.  My favorite is Faizon Love, who does a great service to the fat guys out there showing he has the heart, but maybe not the stamina for Paradise.

4 Middle-Aged Doofs. Which one are you? I am on the left.

Every comic venture has to have it’s signature scenes, and this one is no different.  The Yoga scene is pleasantly uncomfortable, giving a new meaning to the word, “encouragement.”  Four distinctly comedic therapy sessions occur, mainly because they use four different therapists.

Among the drawbacks, of course, is a threadbare plot and the performance of Jean Reno, who seems to be channeling The Love Guru with his wasted performance.  All this is quibbling, though.  You know what you are getting when you look at the poster.  This movie is a mental vacation.  A good one at that.

*** out of *****

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