Movie Review: Four Christmases

By Matthew Huntley

December 10, 2008

This isn't bigger than a breadbox. You always ruin Christmas!

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Four Christmases is making a bundle of money this holiday season. Audiences are in the mood for a light, dumb comedy that doesn't demand much insight or thought from its viewers. I'll go on record to say I like silly comedies as much as the next guy, especially when all I want to be is entertained. They're a welcome change to all the heavy Oscar bait this time of year. But Four Christmases is missing an essential ingredient to be a working comedy: laughs.

This is a dumb comedy all right, and yes, it probably will make a lot of money, but that will be a shame. There's nothing witty, interesting, charming or comical about this movie. It comes as a surprise since it's about dysfunctional families, which usually guarantees laughter since the very idea of a dysfunctional family is so common.

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, an unmarried San Francisco couple who have plans to spend Christmas in Fiji. When their families ask them why they never come home for the holidays, they tell them they're doing charity work in third-world countries. Both Brad and Kate come from divorced families, and the last thing they want to do is see all four of them on Christmas. But when their flight to Fiji gets canceled and they're interviewed on TV by a news reporter, they're caught red-handed, with no more excuses not to visit each family. They come up with a code word to let the other know when they've had enough at each visit: "mistletoe".

Family #1: Brad's father (Robert Duvall) and his two rough-housing brothers (Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw). Brad is the black sheep because he's the only one with a decent job. His father and brothers resent him for it, which is part of the reason they wrestle and jump on him all the time. Things get worse when Brad breaks the $10 gift limit and hands his nephew an X-Box while the kid's father (McGraw) could only afford a flashlight. Some predictable slapstick kicks when Brad falls off the roof trying to install a satellite dish and Kate accidentally knocks a baby's head into a door. None of this is funny, really. The better word is desperate.


Family #2: Kate's pious mother (Mary Steenburgen) and buxom, child-bearing sister (Kristin Chenoweth). They reveal to Brad how Kate used to have lesbian tendencies and the reason why she's so afraid of bouncy castles. Whaddya know, Kate winds up in one such bouncy castle with a group of screaming kids, but even this scene is lame and dull.

Kate and Brad go on to play Mary and Joseph at the church of her mother's boyfriend-pastor (Dwight Yoakam). This entire scene is so awkward and un-amusing it's hard to believe even the dumb characters could find it credible. I kept asking myself, what's the punch line? Is it Brad wearing a short robe? Is it Brad overacting? The scene felt more like a deleted scene for the DVD, but I guess leaving it out would have made the overall movie too short (as is, it's only 82 minutes).

Family #3: Brad's hippie-ish mother (Sissy Spacek) and her very young husband, who happens to be Brad's former best friend. They all play Taboo together, which is supposed to be funny, I guess, because we get to see Spacek hit the buzzer over and over.

Family #4: We finally get to the moral center of the movie when Kate visits her father, played Jon Voight, who comforts her and invokes the true meaning of family and love after she and Brad have a fight. What, you didn't think the movie would escape the inevitable doubt that Brad and Kate might live happily ever after?

There is so much acting talent packed into Four Christmases, but none of it gets manifested in this lame brained comedy. All the actors appear to just be collecting a paycheck. Consider some of the names: Vaughn, Witherspoon, Duvall, Spacek, Voight. The majority of them have Oscars and they certainly know how to pick the right dramatic roles, but comedy, well...

This isn't a mean movie, but even without being overtly offensive, it didn't fill me with any kind of holiday warmth, laughter or emotion. As a silly, slapstick comedy, it's surprisingly bland and ineffectual. No amount of people falling off roofs, trampling kids or puking babies garnered even a chuckle. Maybe all this read funny on paper, but on film, no such luck.



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