Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini

Four Christmases

Four Christmases
Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual humor and language
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: November 26, 2008 Released by: New Line Cinema

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn headline another yuletide comedy for Thanksgiving, the mostly forgettable Four Christmases.

With his Brad about a foot and a half taller than her Kate, first time feature director Seth Gordon probably had more of a challenge working them nicely into the many frames they occupy.

Not soon into the picture one realizes that this isn't designed for families, and it feels like a quartet of vignettes too unformed for its own good.

The happily unmarried couple usually know how to avoid their respective 'divorced and remarried' families each holiday season. Yet, this time around, a holiday flight for their version of "humanitarian aid" is grounded by fog and some "negative" exposure has them doing the rounds.

They go to Brad's parents played by Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek and Kate's parents, played by Mary Steenbergen and Jon Voight. Finding out about each other's childhood, they start to wonder if this relationship is right, as they begin to question the closeness of it.

Gordon offers some spry, ribald promise at the outset, yet it begins to become an unoriginal variation on Meet the Parents. An amusing effort at storytelling and execution becomes tedious, though some will like the rough-and-tumble antics of Brad's brothers, as played by Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau and country superstar/sometime actor Tim McGraw.

So, the filmmakers rely on a bit of pathos for our lead characters to embrace. It worked better for the hearty, garrulous Vaughn in The Breakup with Jennifer Aniston than here with the initially icy, pretty Witherspoon. Being made fun of because of their narcissism isn't as credible as having a lover's quarrel.

Behind Brad and Kate, Steenbergen (Step Brothers) and Duvall have the most screentime, and offer more comic relief than the underused Voight. The scene-stealer is Kristin Chenoweth (quite a stage talent if you know "Wicked") as Kate's frisky, ebullient sister.

Four Christmases is watchable to a degree given the actors on hand, yet there's no interesting commentary on contemporary negligence of family values. Though its running time is happily brief, it seems like potential hilarity or emotional resonance is undermined by how unconvincing the whole never exceeds the sum of its choppy parts. There may be another, better movie on the horizon for Vaughn and Witherspoon, but this one is less funny than embarrassing - like being tossed into a pageant as Joseph and Mary.

  Frank Chris Jim Nina Sam Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Four Christmases  C      C            C+      C 

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