Andy Bockelman: ‘Four Christmases’ offers lots of laughs
December 17, 2008
Craig — Among other things, the holiday comedy “Four Christmases” shows us that doing anything in quadruplicate is pointless when you can’t get the original right.
Brad and Kate (Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon) are a couple who shares everything: a bathroom, a love for ballroom dancing and an utter distaste for their own immediate relatives. Both the product of divorce and too much agonizing history to recount, the two of them have spent years devising the perfect system of ducking out of their holiday obligations through an intricate series of mistruths combined with international travel – after all, you can’t spell “families” without “lies.”
This year is no exception, as the pair plan to head to Fiji for their latest anti-Christmas celebration. Unfortunately, an untimely weather problem Dec. 25 has all planes grounded and when Brad and Kate unwittingly appear on national news, they have to take drastic measures in order to save face with their parents.
The horrific ordeal involves spending time at all four households during the day, which will put the couple’s relationship to the ultimate test.
Vaughn is at his rascally, riffing best as Brad and is much more in his element than as the titular character of last year’s family-unfriendly “Fred Claus.” Witherspoon proves surprisingly adept and funny as Kate, a much more vulnerable and refreshingly uncomplicated female lead than she is used to playing.
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Thanks to the rushed format, the rest of the cast gets little chance to shine, although rising to the top are Robert Duvall as Howard, Brad’s bitter old crank of a father, and Mary Steenburgen as Marilyn, Kate’s shamelessly flirtatious mother, who seems to thrive on her daughter’s embarrassment. Likewise, the other parents have only moments of screen time, be it Sissy Spacek as Paula, Brad’s disturbingly clingy mother, or Jon Voight as Kate’s father, Creighton, who does not even have enough time to develop a personality.
The siblings come to the rescue in supporting roles with Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw as Denver and Dallas, the testosterone-heavy, white-trash brothers of Brad, and Kristin Chenoweth as Kate’s fruitful, snide sister, Courtney.
Whether it’s volcanically vomiting babies, fraternal body slams or family albums filled with pictures of Kate’s chubby childhood, there is no shortage of gags to humiliate our protagonists.
Ultimately, it would all just amount to “Meet the Fockers” with a holiday theme, but there really is hardly any Christmas message to take home. We do get the obligatory moral foisted upon us that family matters most, no matter how annoying and/or hurtful they are.
The dysfunctional family is always rich in comedy, but the film’s short, 82-minute running time does not allow the cast – which includes five Oscar winners – to give the audience as much bang for their buck as they deserve.
If you expect a film with lots of good cheer to spare, you’ll leave the theater feeling like Denver and Dallas just worked you over. However, if you want an escape from the festivities, you will more than sympathize with the hapless duo.