Couples Retreat

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If one of the TV networks took the married couples from four of its sitcoms and crammed them into one big crossover stunt for sweeps week, it might resemble “Couples Retreat,” although “Couples Retreat” does not have a laugh track, and only one of the husbands is a fat guy with a hot partner. So the comparison isn’t perfect.

You get the idea, though: standard couples, each with a different defining characteristic, all of them quarrelsome but allegedly in love. This is a broad, cheap comedy that nevertheless occasionally manages to squeeze some real laughs and honest relationship insights into its “Everybody Loves Raymond”/”Yes, Dear”/”‘Til Death”/”According to Jim” formula. My tolerance for such shtick is low, but maybe yours isn’t.

Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) are a typical suburban couple with two little boys, and when I say “typical” of course I mean that she wants to look at new kitchen tiles and he wants to play video games. They’re friends with three other couples. Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) have been married since high school and have a hoochy teenage daughter who is not leaving the house dressed like that!! Shane (Faizon Love) is recently divorced and has taken up with a 20-year-old mall employee named Trudy (Kali Hawk) who calls all her boyfriends “daddy.” Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell), both fussy like John Hodgeman in the P.C. vs. Mac commercials, have been systematically but unsuccessfully trying to make a baby for the past year.

It’s Jason and Cynthia who see trouble in their marriage and want to visit a couples-only tropical resort. They convince the other three pairs to join them for purposes of getting a group rate, assuring them that the “couples skill-building” courses are optional and that they can just enjoy the sun and fun. But whaddaya know, it turns out the relationship-improving sessions are NOT optional! Marcel (Jean Reno), the snooty Frenchman who runs the place, is strict about everyone following the prescribed schedule of activities! If you don’t, you have to leave! Doh!

While only Jason and Cynthia were originally interested in improving their relationship, it turns out all four couples need work, as they discover in their mandatory meetings with offbeat therapists (played by John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong, among others). What’s surprising is that buried in the lowest-common-denominator jokes about infidelity and horniness are some believable couples who aren’t just stereotypes. All four have the potential to be fleshed-out, thoroughly examined couples — if only this were a movie that had any actual interest in examining them.

What the movie really wants to do, unfortunately, is merely hint at depth and then wrap everything up tidily, assuring us that they’re all going to live happily ever after because, well, the movie’s over and just take our word for it. When we brought up those real issues with interesting ramifications? Never mind that. Here’s a joke about Joey trying to get his beautiful masseuse to touch his pee-pee! Ha ha!

Jon Favreau wrote the screenplay, based on Vince Vaughn’s story idea. (Vaughn is given co-writer credit along with Dana Fox, who wrote “What Happens in Vegas” and “The Wedding Date.”) The emphasis is on shallow laughs. There are fish-in-a-barrel jokes about touchy-feely relationship experts and trust-building exercises. There’s a studly, nearly nude yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce) whose every attempt to help someone strike a particular pose looks like he’s having sex with them. (It’s funny once. Then he does it to each one of the eight main characters. First-time director Peter Billingsley — yes, Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” — would have done well to let that gag die much sooner.) There’s an eye-rolling sequence near the end involving a Guitar Hero duel.

A great help to the film, however, is the amiable cast. All eight of them (including Kali Hawk, whom I’d never seen but who is very funny as the immature Trudy) are nimble and charismatic. They play to their strengths — Jason Bateman is fussy; Vaughn is a motormouthed frat boy — and seem to be enjoying themselves. Their enthusiasm goes a long way toward keeping the whole mediocre affair from becoming completely intolerable, though it’s still not a film I’d want to be trapped on a South Pacific island with.

C (1 hr., 47 min.; PG-13, some profanity, abundant sexual vulgarity and sexual situations, brief partial nudity; was originally rated R but re-rated on appeal without changing anything.)

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