Rated PG-13

While I was living in Southern California, I had the chance to see a live taping of one of the last episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. I’d never seen an episode on TV, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had a great time, some good laughs and, because the taping ran long, ate some free pizza that the producers bought for the audience. After returning home, I couldn’t wait to tell my friends about it. When I told my friend, Leigh, about what I had seen, he immediately replied with this: “I hate that show. I can’t even watch it.”

“What? Why can’t you watch it?” I said. He replied, “Because it makes me so sad for his family. They all hate each other and treat each other like garbage! Why would you make a show about a family where nobody likes each other?” “Dude… You know it’s just a sitcom, right?”

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But Leigh made an interesting point. Why would anyone want to make (or watch) a show where none of the characters seem to like each other? Because it’s funny, that’s why. And so, when I saw the trailer for Couples Retreat, complete with bickering between Vince Vaughn, John Favreau, and Jason Bateman I thought, “Well, at least it’ll be funny.”

I was only kind of right. Kind of.

Couples Retreat has a lot of things going for it. It’s got a killer cast. With Kristen Bell, Faizon Love, and Jason Bateman you’ve got solid supporting players finally being placed in lead roles. But the casting crown (no Christian music pun intended) jewel has to be the re-pairing of Vince Vaughn and John Favreau. I still know guys who quote lines from Swingers, and the promise of these two acting together in a movie again was a strong pull for audiences to make the drive to the theater. But wait, there’s more. Not only are Vaughn and Favreau together onscreen, they were together off-screen as well. Both are credited as writers of the movie (along with Dana Fox). So snappy and clever dialogue is definitely a given. But while casting and some witty dialogue can be counted as the movies strengths, its complete lack of coherent storytelling and its rushed/overly clean and simple ending are weaknesses that it simply can’t overcome.

The story is simple. Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell are a married couple experiencing frustrations from not being able to conceive. They think the answers to all of their problems lie in a therapeutic island retreat, but it’s so expensive that they can’t afford to go. They ask their friends, three other couples (two married and one dating), to come along so they can take advantage of a group-pricing rate. Once on the island, each of the couples’ problems are revealed and confronted. And then, in the last seven minutes of the movie, all of their problems are resolved. In fact, in one of the most ridiculous plot points I’ve seen all year (and I sat through Transformers 2), a character who we haven’t seen during the whole movie appears at the end to resolve a relational conflict we didn’t even know existed.

If you’re looking for an example of healthy relationships, you won’t find that here. If you’re looking for an example of good writing and a coherent plot, you’ll be left wanting. If you’re looking for gorgeous scenery and occasionally funny dialogue, well, that’s about all you’ll find at this retreat.

If you and your date want a good movie, go rent The Proposal. It comes out on DVD this week. If you really want to see this one, wait for the dollar theater or DVD.

Josh Treece is unusually sad at the coming fall season now that he’s seen such beautiful beach scenery in this movie. When he’s not in meteorological mourning, he’s ministering to teenagers.

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