Directed by Seth Gordon. Starring Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Jon Favreau, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Kristin Chenoweth, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Katy Mixon. (2008, PG-13, 82 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 28, 2008
No yuletide season would be complete without the crappy Christmas movie. A holiday tradition on par with returning unwanted gifts for cash and contributing last year’s fruitcake as a dessert dish for the office luncheon, the crappy Christmas movie has little purpose but to capitalize on our desperate need to get into the spirit of the season. This year’s entry in this lowly subgenre is Four Christmases, a D-list comedy with A-list actors. (No doubt, the five Oscar winners in the cast were motivated by an easy paycheck and the audience exposure found in a critic-proof movie starring Vaughn.) In Four Christmases, Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Witherspoon) are a happily unmarried couple living in San Francisco, who have no future plans involving either weddings or babies. They’re like modern-day yuppies, without the Izods and horn-rimmed glasses. Each year, they concoct an elaborate lie to avoid spending the holiday with their fractured families (they’re both children of divorce) so they can instead spend that time together at an exotic destination halfway around the world. As Paul Lynde so famously asked, "What’s the matter with kids today?" When Brad and Kate’s deception is exposed just before departing for a two-week getaway to Fiji, the couple decides to make amends by cramming four family Christmases into a single day. Never mind that the logistics of this premise defy credibility – the travel time spent in crisscrossing the San Francisco/Oakland greater metropolitan area alone would require much more than a mere 24 hours – the oddballs encountered during the course of this day resemble nothing like real people. It’s a freak show inspired by notions of sloppy contemporary comedy, rather than something grounded in the more believable eccentricity of characters in a Frank Capra or Wes Anderson movie. Generously speaking, Four Christmases plays like a series of skits randomly connected to one another: A skit about a family of rednecks executing body slams on shag carpeting is followed by one in which an overly hormonal group of females pants in the presence of new male meat, which is followed by … you get the picture. So, when the script turns a serious corner to impart a warm and fuzzy message about the importance of a traditional holiday with the family, the sentimentality starts to smell. Vaughn and Witherspoon make for a cute couple – the height difference between the two alone is worth a good laugh – but their different approaches to comic acting clash onscreen. Maybe moviegoers are still keen on Vaughn, but his incessant prattling is quickly becoming stale. (Still, his screen appeal is easier to understand when he’s compared to contemporaries like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.) Four Christmases is Gordon’s first full-length film following the brilliant, crowd-pleasing documentary about video-game competition, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Unquestionably, it is a disappointment for anyone with high expectations based on that earlier movie. If you want to see something worthwhile about the joys and pains of family holiday get-togethers, check out Jodie Foster’s underrated Home for the Holidays rather than subject yourself to this year’s crappy Christmas movie. Four Christmases is enough to rattle the Scrooge in all of us. In other words: ho ho humbug.