The key phrase in the promotional slogan above is "no mercy." Nothing worth describing in
any detail happens in Four Christmases. There is not a
single laugh - earned or unearned. This movie reeks of having
been slapped together for an expedient holiday release - there is
no evidence, other than the names on the credits, of this film having
anything bearing a reasonable resemblance to a screenplay. Four Christmases comes off like
the outcome of a few conversations between executives and producers,
with the director and the cast being informed of their responsibilities
at the absolute last minute. Sadly, that strategy worked, too
- at least from a bottom-line perspective. A strong cast, a
holiday theme - these are the only ingredients needed for a Christmastime
hit. The film was able to dupe holidaymaking families sufficient
to rake in $163 million during its mercifully short theatrical run (that's
more than twice its inexplicably large budget).
Brad (large Vince Vaughn) and
Kate (tiny Reese Witherspoon) are a happily unmarried couple with an
annual tradition of spending Christmas abroad - just the two of them.
San Francisco fog prevents their planned holiday in Fiji, however, dooming
them to visit each of their divorced parents' homes for Christmas.
Four Christmases has
a running time of 88 minutes, but upon sitting down in front of the
television, the viewer enters another dimension where this nonevent of a
film lasts an eternity. That's mainly because the whole thing
is so deadly predictable - and yet no one who watches it will be able
to anticipate how inadequately the film underperforms their predictions.
Yes, the average viewer's imagination will far outpace Four Christmases
at every turn.
Bad films are a dime a dozen.
But what's surprising about Four Christmases is the cast, a
supremely talented bunch, and who make for a very attractive package
in and of themselves. Vince Vaughn, whose schtick can occasionally
grow tired, is perfectly capable of a rather fine comic sensibility.
Reese Witherspoon is an Academy Award-winner (deservedly, in my view,
for Walk the Line) who has proven herself many times over as
an able comedic and dramatic performer. These two leads, given
the barest resources, would normally have more than enough wit between
them to hold our attention for a couple of hours. Here, they have
absolutely nothing to work with - zero. It's beyond
my comprehension how this pile of trash was sold to these actors -
and I should mention that they are both credited as producers, too,
which raises my bafflement level even further. Vaughn gropes for
improvisational avenues toward--well--anything at all, and Witherspoon
is mostly reduced to reactions and helplessly bland line readings.
The supporting cast is equally
distinguished and appealing. Jon Favreau shows up as Brad's
brother - appropriate, right? No - Favreau is wasted in a
throwaway role with very few lines; no opportunity is ever provided
for the well-practiced chemistry he shares with Vaughn. Next,
we have Robert Duvall, who rarely does a bad film. Another good
sign, right? Wrong. Duvall's character is even more of
a flavorless black hole than Favreau's, and it sickens one to witness
him be backed into "comical" screaming and yelling. (Duvall
and his family all speak in weird Southern hick-ish accents, which is
weird, since the entire film is set in the San Francisco
Bay Area.) Also without distinction are roles assigned to Sissy
Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Tim McGraw, and Kristen Chenoweth.
Wow - there are a total of five Academy Award-winners in this
cast. What the hell is going on here? Angry dads, slutty moms,
flirtatious sisters - these are the sorts of challenges facing our
The action of the film relies
upon sparse set pieces, such as Steenburgen and family's trek to a
service at a megachurch presided over by a preacher played by Dwight
Yoakam, that define forced contrivance. Unfunny situations are
loaded with unfunny jokes, and fizzle into climax-free nothingness.
Then, when all else fails, Brad and Kate traipse along to the next set
of relations, starting the anti-comedy death spiral all over again.
Four Christmases is
dull to the point of being offensive - it wastes our time and provides
not the slightest entertainment value, let alone anything beyond that.
Families - or anyone - looking for holiday fun should look elsewhere,
like the liquor cabinet.
Two transfers are provided - one enhanced at 1.78:1, and one full-screen.
The fullscreen option is odd, especially in this day and age of nearly-ubiquitous
widescreen television displays. In any event, the transfers are
both fine. The brand-new film maintains a sharp yet film-like
appearance. A brightly-lit comedy, the video still maintains good
black levels when it should.
The English surround track is relatively active for a comedy, especially
during certain key sequences (Witherspoon's effort to recover a home
pregnancy test inside a kid-filled bouncy house comes to mind).
None - which is, in this case, a mercy.
is a god-awful, unfunny experiment in cast-wasting. Skip it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.