A Serious Man Retreat (Weekly Links)


Sy Ableman and Mrs. Gopnik.

Movies I reviewed for the Herald this week:

A Serious Man. “Absolutely haunting.”

Couples Retreat. “A meatball of a guy.” (Dead link; review below.)

By Robert Horton

Vince Vaughn has long since settled into his popular image: a meatball of a guy, fast talking and good hearted, standing by the backyard barbecue or the basement pool table with his shirt untucked and a domestic beer in his hand. In “Couples Retreat,” Vaughn doesn’t tamper with the persona. But he does bring along a group of comic actors to share the wealth, or the burden.

This very strained comedy whisks four couples away to a tropical resort where relationship therapy is part of the daily regimen. The instigators of this sojourn (played by Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) are wondering whether their marriage can be salvaged, and they need their friends along to share the love. Vaughn is a family guy with no huge problems, married to Malin Akerman (one of the “Watchmen”). Frequent co-star Jon Favreau plays a much more boorish type, but you probably guessed that already; Kristin Davis does wifely duties there, and not much else. The fourth couple has big fella Faizon Love, recently divorced and now cavorting with a 20-year-old (the very funny Kali Hawk).

This movie might work better if there were the slightest sense that these people really did know and like each other. Instead, everybody operates in his own zone, trying to carve out some laughs. Even “Swingers” co-stars Vaughn and Favreau don’t really soar the couple of times they get to riff on each other. They just wait around for the raunchier sight gags in the film, of which there are many. Some of these are provided by a hands-on yoga instructor played by Carlos Ponce. Also pretty funny is the uptight resort manager, Peter Serafinowicz, and the guru of the place, Jean Reno.

But everything else is by the numbers. The movie, directed by onetime “Christmas Story” actor Peter Billingsley, just sort of bumps along from one mortifying situation to the next, interrupted only by shots of the aquamarine ocean (partly shot at Bora Bora). When the spectacle of Vince Vaughn surrounded by sharks and doused in a chum bucket doesn’t summon up any lowbrow laughs, you’ve got a problem. Since Vaughn produced and co-wrote (with Favreau and Dana Fox) “Couples Retreat,” he doesn’t have any excuses.

Still Walking. “Wise, but not soft.”

Free Style. “Weightless.”