What a wonderful time the stars of Couples Retreat appear to have, getting paid to soak up sunshine in Bora Bora, and unworried about memorizing lines since Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau make up everything as they go along. Someone named Dana Fox gets equal credit with them for the screenplay, so she can be blamed for anything that isn't funny.
In Couples Retreat, that's darn near everything.
This movie begins with a pee joke and ends with a poop gag, each delivered by a cute tyke behaving smarter than the adult characters. In between, Couples Retreat is a landlocked Love Boat, a flimsy farce in four parts — introductions, wacky stuff, crisis, resolution — about rekindling romance in marriage.
Here's a tip: Don't look to this movie for suggestions. Not only are the problems of these couples stretches of aggravation, they're solved in ways that relatively bright people can figure out without spending a small fortune on a Bora Bora vacation.
Take motor-mouth Dave (Vaughn), for example. He sells Guitar Hero video games, an occupation that apparently takes his time completely away from his wife, Ronnie (Malin Akerman), and two sons. Don't ask how peddling a time waster does that, but it provides Dave with a means of dueling a pompous resort host (Peter Serafinowicz) in an amusing scene unbecoming anything else in Couples Retreat.
How about Joey (Favreau)? He doesn't need a job to ignore his wife, Lucy (Kristin Davis), just a passive-aggressive streak a mile wide. Joey is married to a smart hottie yet harbors ill will that isn't explained except for the unspoken knowledge that insults keep the movie going.
Their friend Shane (Faizon Love) is already divorced and hooked up with a hoochie (Kali Hawk) half his age with twice his sexual stamina. Shane's strongest contribution to the movie is being obese and willing to shed his clothes for cellulite laughs.
Finally, there's Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell), who hoodwink everyone to the Eden West marriage counseling resort under a group rate plan. They're a type-A couple thriving on marital tension, not minding if it meddles with their friends' feelings.
These people deserve each other, and not in a good way. Not a single character in Couples Retreat is someone to wish better things for. We take pleasure in their discomfort at Eden West; swimming with sharks, getting way too close with a yoga instructor, enduring strict lessons from Marcel (Jean Reno), the resort's founder. We learn early that there's also an Eden East for singles hedonism. Guess where our couples wind up?
Another problem for this listless comedy is Vaughn's loyalty to his old pal Peter Billingsley — yes, "Ralphie" from A Christmas Story — who never directed a feature film before, so this seemed like a good time and place to begin. No argument about the place, but the time should've been never.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.