COUPLES RETREAT, directed by Peter Billingsley, written by Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Dana Fox, 105 minutes, rated PG-13.
The new Peter Billingsley movie, “Couples Retreat,” is a comedy about avoiding divorce. In its sights are Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell), two miserable, boring shills with energy to spare, but for reasons not worth exploring here, can’t conceive a child. And so, you know, they kind of hate each other for it.
Isn’t that funny? It gets better.
Fueling the laughs even harder are the six people duped by Jason and Cynthia to join them on an island getaway.
The idea they present to their friends — two couples nearing divorce, one couple whose male counterpart recently divorced and now is dating a slinky young woman years younger than himself (she could be his child) — is the opportunity to relax in a tropical clime. Trouble is, when they get there, all find out what’s going down — they’ve been tricked into couples counseling. And really, what’s funnier than couples counseling?
In the right hands — say, Woody Allen’s — the answer would have been “plenty.” But here, it’s a resounding “zip!”
Billingsley, who once played Ralphie in 1983’s “A Christmas Story,” should have picked up that old BB gun of his and blown the hell out of the script before he ever signed on to make a movie out of it.
About that script. It hails from Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Dana Fox, it’s riddled with cliches, and so what Billingsley mines from it is just what you’d expect — a movie cramped with them. That’s a disappointment, not only because of the film’s sorry lack of laughs, but also because it squanders the potential of its premise, not to mention the talent driving it.
Beyond Bateman, who has been on a roll lately, the movie stars Vaughn as Dave, Kristin Davis as Lucy, Jean Reno as the ditzy putz behind this tropical throwdown, Favreau as Joey, Malin Akerman as Ronnie and Faizon Love as Shane. Given the right roles, every one of these actors has proved they can sustain laughter. But here? At my screening, the audience might as well have been extras in a silent movie.
Also in theaters
WHIP IT, directed by Drew Barrymore, written by Shauna Cross, 111 minutes, rated PG-13.
The new Drew Barrymore movie, on the other hand, proves that not all child stars are without talent behind the lens. She’s no Ron Howard (yet), but based on the strength of her roller derby dramedy “Whip It,” there’s no question that Barrymore has a promising career ahead of her if, you know, that acting thing of hers doesn’t work out.
From Shauna Cross’ script, which she based on her novel “Derby Girl,” “Whip It” is Barrymore’s directorial debut, and what she has crafted is a film not unlike her own persona. The movie is moody, quirky, light, winking and rebellious, a flick about a young woman who never quite fit in until she found the right people to guide her into someone more substantial and confident.
Here, that character is Bliss (Ellen Page), whose mother (Marcia Gay Harden) once dolled her up and trotted her out to compete in beauty pageants, but not for long. Bliss eventually does a 180 by joining a cut-throat roller derby squad called the Hurl Scouts.
The lot of them are tough, big-hearted losers (Eve, Kristen Wiig and Zoe Bell co-star), but since Barrymore has learned a few things from her former director Steven Spielberg, there’s no way they’ll be losers for long.
Neither will Bliss, who goes by Babe Ruthless in the ring, which is perfect since a mean beast on an opposing team, the fearsome Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis, loose as ever), is determined to undo her.
Unlike “Couple’s Retreat,” what’s curious about “Whip It” is that its predictability doesn’t spoil it — the movie is having too much fun darting toward its happy ending, the likes of which won’t surprise anyone who witnessed the revealing trailer and television campaign.
You don’t admire the movie for the chances it takes — it doesn’t take any, really. Instead, you admire it for the care that went into fleshing out its characters, the camaraderie that grows between them, and the thrill of watching a few harrowing turns around a skating rink — all while watching Bliss grow up and find herself thanks to it.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.