With the exceptions of Bad Santa, The Polar Express, Love Actually, and Elf, this decade has been pretty pathetic when it comes to holiday-themed films. It’s time to face it: there’s nothing new for this sub-genre to offer. As Christmas had become increasingly more about consumerism and all-around obnoxiousness, so have the films that represent it. Four Christmases is simply all-too-familiar and exceedingly mediocre – and will likely be forgotten by the time we take down our Christmas trees.
Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Witherspoon) might just be the happiest couple on Earth. They are unmarried, seem to have an open line of communication, and still play plenty of frisky games. When people question why they are not married and popping out kids, they shrug off the notion as overdone and commercialized. Every Christmas they go on an exotic vacation, but tell their families they are flying to Burma to do charity work. When their flight to Fiji is grounded due to bad weather and they’re busted on the local news, they have no choice but to visit each divorced parent.
That this kind of canned and by-the-numbers comedy is directed by Seth Gordon (he of The King of Kong fame – see that film immediately) is the most disappointing aspect of the whole production. Gordon is a gifted Independent director, but given A-list stars and a screenplay full of slapstick and puke jokes, he seems to just pack it in from the opening frame. The film does have its moments, though. A sequence in which Brad gets his father, Howard (Duvall), a satellite dish and tries to install it is one of the best scenes in the film. Other sequences seem to be nothing more than filler. An extended church visit yields next to no laughs and plenty of squirms.
The performances are on par with the material. Vince Vaughn plays Vince Vaughn, meaning he gets to do plenty of babbling in the hopes that something sticks. Surprisingly enough, he gets a lot of laughs. The same can’t be said for Reese Witherspoon, who looks increasingly uncomfortable as the film presses on. By the time the third baby puke scene came about I was ready for her to throw up her arms and leave the set. There are some good supporting characters, particularly the bizarre pairing of Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw as Brad’s alpha male, UFC fighter-wannabe brothers.
As basically the only big holiday film of this season, 2008 will quickly be forgotten for this genre. The 80’s and 90’s were the heyday for holiday comedies, and I think most are perfectly content dusting off the DVD’s once a year and watching their favorites. Four Christmases contributes nothing new and doesn’t contain enough laughs to warrant a big night out for the family. The more I think about it, just do Seth Gordon a favor and rent The King of Kong. You can thank me later.
Studio: New Line Cinema
Length: 82 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.
Theatrical Release: November 26, 2008
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Written by: Matt Allen & Caleb Wilson & Jon Lucas & Scott Moore.
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau