'Couples Retreat' has a nice message

"Couples Retreat" can be called a mall movie or a consumer movie, meaning a two-hour escape that while not memorable is very watchable. Call it a romantic comedy lite.

The film is set in Bora Bora, a gorgeous location, at a retreat called Eden. OK, not the most imaginative name. More specifically, the resort is a couples' therapy getaway, akin to Club Med without all the fun stuff like jet-skiing, snorkeling, sailing and late-night parties.

It's all about the relationship work. Married for almost a decade, the couples, who are friends, arrive feeling a bit trapped by the exigencies and compromises of a permanent relationship. Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristin Davis) are struggling to conceive; Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristen Bell) are drifting apart; Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Ackerman) have a partnership but are losing touch because of long work hours and two young boys; and Shane (Faizon Love) and Trudy (Kali Hawk), are some 20 years apart in age (Shane, recently divorced, nearing 40, is getting a bit worn out).

While Jason and Cynthia welcome the prospect of being in counseling for the week, with one of Eden's "couples whisperers" (so named by Dave), the others want to skip the therapy sessions entirely; they're all about having fun. They soon learn, however, that their contract with Eden's director, Marcel (Jean Reno), means work before play. It's his way or the highway.

Written and produced by Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, the film has its moments. It's visually stunning and some of the staccato lines are funny. Especially in act one, which proved to be the most interesting.

What surprises is that Vaughn, who has a solid following, plays against type, which is usually a 30-something guy who is developmentally 20. A good example of that persona is his character in "Wedding Crashers" and "The Break-Up."

In "Couples Retreat," he is the most grounded of all the men and in act three delivers a monologue on adult responsibility, love and marriage that is remarkable for its maturity.

But then trying to find a way to be a grownup, and meet commitments, such as those found in a long-term relationship, is the developing theme of the film.

Of course, since this is Hollywood, land of happy endings, each couple finally has an epiphany that addresses their marital issues that results in moments of new passion and discovery.

The film does have a nice message, delivered, at times, in a ham-fisted, slapstick manner. And there are more than a few scenes that should have been truncated and therefore would have been far sharper. Actually, that could be said for the entire film. But said not too harshly.

The Invention of Lying

"The Invention of Lying" is, blatantly, a vanity film. What's a vanity film? It's where a Hollywood actor, who has had some success at the box office, decides to write, direct and produce his or her own vehicle.

Vanity movies are the height of hubris and generally don't do well for a number of reasons, usually because of the mediocre writing.

Why are actors blind to the fact that their screen magnetism is simply not enough to carry a really bad story? Well, like many famous people, they are told by an entourage of sycophantic assistants that they are wonderful and possess a huge talent (huge!) and therefore should have complete control over their own project.

This brings us to "The Invention of Lying," starring Ricky Gervais, who clearly feels that as writer and director all the film needs is him, his presence, plus a one trick pony of a script and viola! the audiences will be enthralled.

Sadly, the one trick is thin and the plot device wears out its welcome by the end of act one.

Gervais, as writer, borrows unashamedly from Jim Carrey's "Liar Liar," managing only to turn the plot upside down: instead of a man unable to lie to those who are mendacious, Gervais' character, Mark Bellison, lives in a world where people are completely truthful, compelled to speak their minds. Because of a synapse meltdown, he learns to lie, discovering that he is believed, no matter what he says. In one barroom scene he insists he is black and those next to him all nod in agreement. Indeed. They knew that.

Bellison quickly figures out that if he is unequivocally believed then he can use his new-found ability and so begins to scam people out of money, manipulate his bosses and co-workers, and perhaps get the girl of his dreams, one Anna McDoogle, played by Jennifer Garner.

There isn't one character in the film that is interesting or sympathetic or even remotely comedic. It's all vacuous nonsense.

Now the original concept — the idea that life means striking a balance between honesty and dissembling — could have taken an interesting turn. But Gervais, as the screenwriter, assumes that living in a world (in this case, a small New England town) where everyone is brutally honest, no matter the hurt inflicted, has endless legs. It doesn't. Nor does "The Invention of Lying," which implodes in act three and just staggers, as if inebriated, to the final credits.

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