Saturday 17 September 2011

Movie Review: Four Christmases (2008)

A mild relationship comedy that has all the flavour of left-over Christmas turkey three days into January, Four Christmases has an entertaining secondary cast but little else to recommend it.

Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) are a happily unmarried loving couple, never planning to tie the knot and certainly avoiding ever having children. Both products of broken homes, Brad and Kate spend their vacations avoiding their families at all costs, concocting tall tales about doing charity work while flying off to exotic vacation resorts in places like Fiji.

When an unexpected storm grounds their Christmas vacation flight and a local television crew beams their interview as stranded travellers across San Francisco, they are exposed and forced to visit all four of their parents on a single day leading up to Christmas Eve. For the first time obligated to interact with their parents as a couple, Brad and Kate discover that they really know very little about each other, and that their seemingly perfect life may actually be quite vacuous.

With the easily dismissable attempts at humour including Brad being gang-tackled by his brutish brothers (more than once) and baby projectile vomit soiling the landscape (more than once), the main joy of watching Four Christmases comes from spotting rarely-seen and once-distinguished old pros contributing short performances. In their prime Robert Duvall (Brad's dad), Jon Voight (Kate's dad), Mary Steenburgen (Kate's mom) and Sissy Spacek (Brad's mom) would not have been caught within miles of a generally witless movie, but here they become the distraction that salvages some entertainment from the limp main event.

Vince Vaughn arduously avoids any stretching and plays the part of Vince Vaughn, essentially the same role that he plays in all his movies: modern man struggling mightily to control the base instincts of jungle man. In Four Christmases his family is still in the jungle, white trash spewing unrefined DNA all over the dirty carpet, leaving open the question of how Brad ever escaped his family's gutter. Vaughn will do well to expand the range of his on-screen persona, as he currently resides solidly on the lazy side of the judgement line.

Reese Witherspoon seems to know that she's stuck in a production at least two notches below her talent level, and Kate's building sadness in the movie may be equally attributed to losing faith in her relationship with Brad and to Witherspoon realizing that Four Christmases will really not look good on a resume that includes Walk The Line. That she co-produced the movie would not have helped to cheer her up.

Five producers (including both Vaughn and Witherspoon) and four writers shared the apparently heavy lifting to assemble this lightweight 88 minutes of easily forgettable entertainment. Next time, they may all want to focus less time on convincing veterans to appear in semi-cameos, and more time in finding something a bit more original to put on the screen.

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