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"Four Chrismases"-(Chris)
Reviewer:
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Warner Brothers
Genre:
Comedy
Release Date:
11/24/09
Special Features:

Widescreen and full screen versions

Review:

It can’t possibly be a good sign that A-list actors like Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, and Jon Voight agreed to star in “Four Christmases.” Given their reputations – and for many, this includes Academy Award nominations – you’d think someone would have noticed that the story was both unoriginal and unfunny. There are only two possibilities I can consider, and neither one paints a very flattering picture: Either the cast was motivated by a paycheck, or they all suffered from a serious lack of judgment, believing that audiences would actually be entertained by it. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. ***

Whatever the case, they’re stuck in film that tries so hard to be both funny and touching that it fails both ways. It starts as a comedy that first goes for the cheap laughs, only to become a bland sentimental commentary on the importance of family. I don’t need to spend money to be told that we should spend time with our loved ones, even if they’re completely insane. By now, I think we all know. ***

The setup: Vaughn and Witherspoon play Brad and Kate, a happily unmarried couple living in San Francisco. I have no idea what they do for a living, but given the fact that they can afford an apartment in one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets, they’re clearly paid well. Anyway, at Christmastime, they have a tradition of avoiding their families by vacationing in exotic locations; so as not to upset anyone, they claim that they’re involved in humanitarian efforts, such as immunizing disadvantaged children in Asia. ***

This year, they planned on going to Fiji. Unfortunately, heavy fog forces every outgoing flight from San Francisco International to be cancelled. What’s worse is that a news reporter is there to cover the story, and lo and behold, Brad and Kate are interviewed on camera. Naturally, their parents, who are all divorced and living in separate homes, see them exposed on television. Now Brad and Kate have no choice but to visit their families on Christmas Day. ***

Christmas No. 1: Brad’s father, Howard (Duvall). Duvall plays Howard like a parody of his role in “The Great Santini”; he’s a tough-talking man who belittles his son for being the more sensitive, more educated type. This is in direct contrast to brothers Dallas (Tim McGraw) and Denver (Jon Favreau), trained cage fighters who are also spending Christmas at home. Aggressive, rude, and always with a murderous glint in their eyes, they take great pleasure in beating Brad senseless, maybe because he no longer goes by his given name, Orlando (all of Howard’s kids are named after the cities they were conceived in). ***

Denver is visiting with his wife, Susan (Katy Mixon), who under less politically correct circumstances would be considered white trash – Southern, pregnant even though she already has a nine-month-old, thinking a Christmas feast is a casserole made from Spam and Doritos. Christmas No. 2: Kate’s mother, Marilyn (Steenburgen). Marilyn is apparently starved for some male attention, seeing as she fawns over Brad the instant he arrives. You’d think she’d be getting enough attention from her current husband, a pastor named Phil (Dwight Yoakam), but I guess she isn’t. Already there is Kate’s sister, Courtney (Kristin Chenoweth), who brought along her bratty daughter and newborn son, the latter of which projectile vomits on Kate. ***

Both Kate and Brad have been telling people that they don’t want children, and after Kate has a terrible experience in a bouncy castle – which involves a group of out-of-control kids and a pregnancy test – you’d think her mind would remain unchanged. But for some strange reason, she begins to consider the idea that settling down wouldn’t be such a bad thing, that marrying and having kids might actually be worthwhile. But before she can even suggest this to Brad, she has to cope with her mother, who takes the liberty of casting her and Brad in Pastor Phil’s nativity play. ***

Christmas No. 3: Brad’s mother, Paula (Spacek). For the life of me, I can’t understand why she and Brad’s father got married in the first place. They couldn’t be anything less alike. Howard is callous macho man while Susan is a sensitive pseudo-hippie. Be that as it may, Susan is now married to Brad’s former childhood friend, who tries to reassure Brad by saying that he’s not trying to be a father. ***

Christmas No. 4: Kate’s father, Creighton (Voight). Creighton, a sincere, sympathetic man, may be the only decent character in the entire film. Given the amount of time spent on less pleasant characters, this is problematic. If he’s so loving and understanding, why has Kate been avoiding him all these years? Why not spend the holidays with him? ***

This is when the film shifts from humor to drama, with Brad and Kate coming to terms with the fact that, for all the happiness they’ve shared, they don’t know each other as well as they thought they did. It just goes to show you that even predictable films can have trouble with consistency. At that crucial point in the story, Voight introduces patience, serenity, and charm, essentially going against everything the film established. Did he not realize that the film was intended to be a goofy comedy? I guess it doesn’t matter one way or the other. ***

Special Features:

Other than including both the 1.85:1 widescreen and the 1.33:1 full screen versions of the film, this DVD has no special features. It presents the film in Dolby 5.1 Digital sound. ***

Final Words:

“Four Christmases” is a ridiculous, clunky holiday movie, simultaneously desperate for laughter and tears, performed by actors capable of so much more. Here’s one Christmas gift that needs to be returned.

 

 
 
 
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