Four Christmases
New Line // PG-13 // $28.98 // November 24, 2009
Review by Casey Burchby | posted November 11, 2009
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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. Hijinx ensue.

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 talented stars.

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.


The Video
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 Audio
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).

The Extras
None - which is, in this case, a mercy.

Final Thoughts

Four Christmases is a god-awful, unfunny experiment in cast-wasting. Skip it.

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