A PG-13 rating communicates something about a movie, especially about comedies and horror films, which tend to be rated R. With horror movies, the PG-13 rating usually indicates the film will be light on the torture sequences and thus presumably less torturous for audiences.
PG-13 comedies, on the other hand, won't be half as raunchy as their R-rated compatriots. Which means that, in order to really be successful, PG-13 comedies must be uncommonly smart. Think about that. Now think of the PG-13 "Couples Retreat."
If you think your prospects would be more promising with another film, like "Zombieland," you're right.
In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Carlos Ponce, left, Vince Vaughn, center, and Malin Akerman are shown in a scene from “Couples Retreat.”
"Couples Retreat" opens with a montage of happy couples, and then quickly segues to mild to severe instances of domestic strife, as experienced by the four couples at the movie's center. There are Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman), a couple with standard home-and-otherwise renovation issues; Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell), a couple having trouble trying to conceive; Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis), an ex-jock and cheerleader who had a shotgun wedding; and Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk), who just started dating. Trudy's 20 and 20 years Shane's junior; therein lies their dysfunction.
The film takes an excessive amount of time getting to its main plot device. Jason and Cynthia, looking to rekindle their relationship on a budget, convince their friends to join them at the Eden couples resort at a group rate. They expect to jet ski and tan; what they don't know is that couples' therapy and skill building sessions are a mandatory part of the experience.
Supposedly this is where the hijinks would ensue, but this intermittently funny-ish film only manages to tip the scale from "deadly boring" to "mildly amusing" on a few occasions. Which is sad, because "Couples Retreat" stars a lot of likable, popular, fairly talented actors.
But writers Vaughn and Favreau give themselves and their castmates nothing original to do, and director Peter Billingsley doesn't seem to have much of a grasp on the spontaneity he needs to generate in a scene to bring good comedy to life.
It doesn't help that "Couples Retreat" feels like a bored knockoff of everyone's other, better movies and TV shows. You see one Kristen and think "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," you see the other and think "Sex and the City." And while Akerman is perfectly adequate in her part as Vaughn's wife, her red hair only makes you think of Vaughn's scandalously fizzy, hysterically successful pairing with Isla Fisher in the much funnier "Wedding Crashers."
The film isn't so much bad as it is tepid and completely forgettable. Then again, it's hard to enjoy a movie when you're rooting for at least half the couples to get divorced.
Plus, there are too many genres of comedy bouncing around, trying to find a home. Deadpan mavens Bateman and Bell are capable of sophisticated stuff, while Vaughn made his mark as a verbally loose cannon. Favreau is darker, more caustic and has an overall more aggressive approach, while Davis is best as a sweet goofball who exudes hilarious physicality. They don't mesh.
Ideally, all of these different natures would play off each other quite nicely but, for some reason, kismet decided not to grace "Couples Retreat" with its presence. Instead, each actor's performance ricochets off the others' in a weirdly flat kind of chaos.
Vaughn is on autopilot, and you can see the Kristins ho-humming their way through the pic. Indeed, let the two most gifted comedic actresses be your guide: They're clearly bored, missing their clever television shows, and so are you. The only difference is they got paid to be bored, while you're literally paying for it.
Plus, never mind Love and Hawk; the thought of Bateman and Bell together is just creepy. He may not be quite old enough to be her dad, but he could easily be her very older brother, and his comedy style has always been a little on the sleazy side. They're fabulous actors, but as a couple they're kind of gross - and not in the adorable, squishy way.
It's possible I'm just incredibly ageist, but hey, it ain't the '70s anymore, Roman Polanski.
In Bateman's hands, Jason makes for one of the funnier guys but he's still an insufferable, suffocating character. So it's hard to blame Bell when she escapes to the singles side of the resort, making for the dance floor like she's just been sprung from a high-security prison.
And I feel for Trudy, too. She's a flake if there ever was one, but I completely understand her frustration. These characters, the men especially, feel old and boring, which isn't fair, because they're played by otherwise lively comedians. The only near-hit is Salvadore (Carlos Ponce), the overzealous yoga instructor. He's a cliche, but he's almost amusing.
And so goes the movie. It's a cliche, it's almost amusing, but most of all, it's a reminder of how you could be having so much fun watching something else.