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Almost Famous

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Patrick Fugit is Almost Famous

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Couples Retreat seems to have been designed to send couples out of the theater holding hands, reassured that it’s possible to rediscover the spark in marriages grown stale. I’m not knocking the message, but I do take issue with the messenger, a surprisingly toothless comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau.

Therapy begins at 6 a.m.
Therapy begins at 6 a.m.

Couples Retreat isn’t consistently funny, insightful or diverting, and it focuses on marriages that are of no special interest. There must be those among us who have been yearning to see frequent collaborators Vaughn and Favreau together again. Why not? They made what many regard as a landmark indie comedy, Swingers; they both can be funny, and both are talented. Together with Dana Fox, Vaughn and Favreau wrote the screenplay for Couples Retreat, which (as mentioned) isn’t particularly funny, insightful or diverting. Have I said that enough?

And while we’re on the subject of Favreau, it’s worth noting that he spends most of the movie looking as if his head’s about to explode. He’s playing a man with a clenched-fist where his soul should be. Favreau’s Joey has grown to hate his marriage to his high school sweetheart (Kristin Davis of Sex and the City.)

Joey’s only one of the movie’s miserable men. Jason Batemen plays another. Bateman’s Jason claims the spark has gone out of his marriage to his lovely wife (Kristin Bell). These two also have turned their love life into a chore, vigorously trying (without success) to conceive a child.

Using a power point presentation, Jason introduces the idea of a group trip to Eden Resort, a Pacific getaway that looks as if it was designed to lull even the most disgruntled of us into balmy satisfaction. (The movie was shot in Bora Bora.) But Eden is no ordinary resort; it specializes in helping couples renew their ardor, and, in service of this goal, employs therapists and yoga instructors who work for a guru-like disciplinarian named Marcel (Jean Reno). Sleep in? Hell, no. Couples therapy begins at 6 a.m., says Marcel.

Traveling with Bateman’s character are Vaughn’s Dave and his wife Ronnie (Malin Akerman). They’re happy and well adjusted — albeit a bit harried. Also in tow, Shane (Faizon Love), a heavy-set, divorced fellow who brings a 20-year-old companion to the island, Kali Hawk’s Trudy. She runs him ragged, embarrassing him by calling him “daddy.”

There’s something wrong with a comedy that casts Vaughn as the straight arrow in the group. It’s left to Vaughn, whose presence often suggests relaxed disregard for convention, to extol the virtues of marriage and of acting one’s age. Acting one’s age is fine in real life, but in Hollywood comedies, it’s tantamount to heresy. Maybe that’s why Vaughn and Faverau include a couple of scenes — one involves a guitar-playing video game — in which Vaughn’s character veers off his adult course.

Couples Retreat has been assembled by director Peter Billingsley, who works mostly as an actor and producer, and who, in this case, tries to make the most of the island scenery, giving the movie splashes of luxuriant gloss. Yes, it would be wonderful to stay in a hotel room that opens directly onto the ocean. Perhaps lulled by the tropical breezes of Bora Bora, the movie ultimately opts for happily-ever-after sentimentality.

A preview audience laughed at some of the bits, particularly a scene in which a yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce) twists the couples into quasi-compromising positions. I’m pretty sure I’d already seen that particular gag in the movie’s trailer or in a promotional clip. By the time I saw it in the movie, its hilarity quotient had greatly diminished.

I suppose one could call Couples Retreat, a middling comedy, but if I had a vote, I’d throw all these folks off the island. Only one performance struck me as memorable: John Michael Higgins plays a marriage counselor who’s annoying enough to be amusing. Otherwise, Couples Retreat manages a neat trick: It feels like a movie you’ve seen dozens of times before even though you haven’t.