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Time Out New York Project: Issue #733, October 15-21, 2009
Dir. Peter Billingsley. 2009. PG-13. 107mins. Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau.
When the definitive history of cinema is written, Couples Retreat will warrant a footnote only for being the feature-film directorial debut of Ralphie from A Christmas Story. It’s too easy to say that Peter Billingsley shot his eye out with this inept comic trifle, but…well, he shot his eye out.
The director’s certainly not helped by his scenario: Four couples in varying states of relationship decay travel to a tropical resort for some sitcom-structured group therapy. Cowriters and stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are a long way from the halcyon days of Swingers—only a thwarted masturbation gag comes within dribbling distance of that film’s complicated take on heterosexual rapport. Otherwise, it’s a long succession of gay panic and Guitar Hero jests, though at least the latter happen at the expense of the hilariously fatuous concierge, Stanley (Peter Serafinowicz), who goes head-to-head with Vaughn’s video-game programmer on an expert-level rendition of Billy Squier’s “Lonely Is the Night.”
There’s something almost touching about Vaughn and Favreau’s faith that the couples can work out their differences, get their freak back on and grow old together at Applebee’s. Yet Billingsley’s amateur-hour style of filmmaking—mismatched shots, a galumpher’s comic timing—does nothing but surround the ex-swingers’ conviction in an aura of fraud.—Keith Uhlich