Vince Vaughn may be the best straight man in comedy films today. And it seems he’s caught the Christmas bug, as for the second year in a row he finds himself in a comedy centered around the Christmas holiday. Last year it was the surprisingly funny, yet critically dismissed Fred Claus. This year he puts his subtle quick wit to use in Four Christmases.
But unlike his first foray into the holiday maelstrom, Four Christmases is tiresome and blatantly formulaic — so much so that within five minutes of each of the four substories, I knew precisely who was going to do what to whom. The only unanswered question to it all was why — why would Hollywood subject anyone to this duress under the guise of a holiday movie?
In case I lost you there, the film revolves around the hip, San Francisco couple of Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Reece Witherspoon). They’re the unattached type and because of this they’ve decided to not have children and have actively avoided their families during the holidays (apparently any semblance of a family puts a crimp in the jetset lifestyle). But when fog cancels their vacation plans to Fiji, they’re forced to visit with each of their divorced parents (hence the four Christmases). After meeting their disjointed families it is no wonder Brad and Kate have been trying to stay as far away as possible.
The unimpressive setups first start at Brad’s father’s home. Here we meet his condescending dad Howard (Robert Duvall) and cage-fighting brothers Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw). This stop is little more than an exercise at humiliating Brad, as his father hurls a barrage of redneck insults his way while his brothers man handle him. Next comes a stop over at Kate’s mom Marilyn’s (Mary Steenburgen) home where her Gram-Gram (Jeanette Miller) gets flirtatious and the baby seed gets implanted deep into Kate’s head thanks to her pregnant sister Courtney (Kristen Chenowith). Later, during the never-ending day, they then visit Brad’s mom Paula’s (Sissy Spacek) house. More contrived laughs come from a friendly game of Taboo and from the fact that she’s now dating a friend of Brad’s from high school. Lastly, the couple makes their way to Kate’s dad Creighton’s (Jon Voight) residence. I don’t seem to recall many laughs here, that’s probably because my brain had ceased functioning by then.
Each visit tears the couple apart bit by bit — Kate comes to the realization that her life is empty without a child and Brad becomes more agitated with the notion of breaking their no child agreement. The insults between the two grow increasingly mean spirited further throwing into question how they managed to become a couple in the first place. Despite the obvious lack of romantic connection between the two and a spotty premise, Vaughn still manages to squeak out some laughs with his rapid fire verbal jousting. There isn’t a soul, dead or alive, that can keep up with him. The camera also continues to loves Reece Witherspoon (she is adorable as always) but I didn’t see any charm in her character and as the film progressed she became more of an annoyance than anything else. As for rest of the cast (which at last count had five Academy Award winners), all I can say is some of them should be ashamed for showing their faces and taking a paycheck.
I do however get the feeling Four Christmases is one of those movies that was probably much funnier when read aloud than when filmed. But nonetheless, if you are looking for some holiday cheer (we all are at this time of year) head back for seconds on the eggnog — you’ll be hard pressed to find anything that resembles holiday cheer here.