“Couples Retreat” loses positive message by exploiting sex

“Couples Retreat” may be a comedy, but it disgusts just as often as it entertains.

Couples Retreat loses its underlying positive message about marriage fidelity in a sea of unneeded sex scenes and crude jokes.

“Couples Retreat” loses its underlying positive message about marriage fidelity in a sea of unneeded sex scenes and crude jokes.

Harmony Wheeler, Writer

Let’s make a list about “Couples Retreat.” Pros: The movie promotes marriage as a lifelong commitment and it promotes Guitar Hero. Cons: This movie is entirely about sex.

How many dirty jokes and sexual implications does it take to ruin a good film? “Couples Retreat” proves that sex, even when not explicitly shown, can overstay its welcome. Familiar actors and an endearing plot make this overblown film more enjoyable for viewers, if they can get past the sex.

Four couples struggling with their marriages fly to Eden Resort, a tropical paradise with lots of relationship-building activities thrown in. While Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are anxious to work their problems out, Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), Shane and his 20-year-old girlfriend Trudy, and Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) sign up thinking the couples activities are optional.

Reality hits, however, when they realize the couples program is not optional. This paradise may be closer to an abyss that will reveal, rather than solve, problems. Jason and Cynthia, who communicate through perfect slideshows, must learn to loosen up and to not hold each other to standards of perfection.

As Joey and Lucy begin to cheat on each other, they realize the joys of the world are not as enjoyable as a loving marriage. Trudy’s energy wears Shane down, and an unexpected visitor forces him to reconsider his past decisions. Lastly, Dave and Ronnie become dependent on each other. All the adventures lead up to a battle of the sexes, and a Guitar Hero battle between Dave and a resort employee.

“Couples Retreat” focuses on Dave and Ronnie in particular. While the other couples add plenty of comedy, their relationships don’t get enough screen time for the audience to care about the resolutions to their stories. Scenes with couples activities go by too fast for any chemistry or plot to develop.

In the end, Dave and Ronnie’s reconciliation stands above those of the other couples as truly relatable, believable and enjoyable.

While Vaughn and Akerman make their characters real and honest, the rest of the cast becomes wasted talent, especially Jean Reno (“The Pink Panther” and “The Da Vinci Code”), who plays the mystic Marcel, the head of Eden Resort and a well-known “couples whisperer.” Reno’s scenes are pointless and do not take advantage of his potential to create any good laughs.

When Marcel appears, it feels like the film will take a Will Ferrell route or turn into a version of “Balls of Fury.” Marcel’s mystic approach to marriage feels fake, and scenes that show his resort employees fooling around don’t help. Perhaps Marcel is meant to make the viewer laugh, but most of the time, he doesn’t.

The constant sexual jokes do not add to the laughter, either. Some jokes do amuse, but sexual references in front of kids and frequent scenes of women in their underwear warrant question. The film’s one sex scene shows nothing explicit, — a man’s naked backside appears — and one scene shows the couples practicing yoga positions that are clearly sexual.

How many of these scenes are really needed? There are other, cleaner ways to show a man is unfaithful to his wife – ways that are not nearly as raunchy and distasteful as the ones shown in “Couples Retreat.”

Does sex sell? Obviously writers Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”) think so. And we can’t forget the typical jokes like the little boy peeing in a home decor store’s display toilet.

“Couples Retreat” may be a comedy, but it disgusts just as often as it entertains. Director Peter Billingsly (The kid from “A Christmas Story”) has not done as well as he could have for his directorial debut.

The film’s small amount of genuine comedy and its ultimate message of lifelong commitment and loving relationships are its few redeeming qualities, but they are not worth more than a trip to the dollar theater.

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