Four Christmases

Director    Seth Gordon
Starring    Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen
Release    26 NOV (US) 26 NOV (UK)    Certificate 12A
2 stars


30th November 2008

Christmas is many things - exhausting, expensive, an increasingly tedious capitalist holiday marketed by soulless corporations - but it is rarely funny. Enough with the laughter, dammit - this is the festive season and there are life lessons to be learned! The Christmas comedy can usually be spotted (and avoided) from a mile off - they involve tense situations between mismatched family members, squabbling and discovering in the end what really matters (family/friends/love, delete as applicable). In other words, they're precisely as enjoyable as the real thing.

Vince Vaughn has had a lock on the crappy Christmas comedy for two years now; last year with the widely-derided Fred Claus, the unlikely premise being he was Santa's brother; and this year with Four Christmases, the unlikely premise being that he's shagging Reese Witherspoon. The mismatched pair (I'm laughing already!) are all set to jet off to Fiji over Christmas when their flight is cancelled, leaving them to face the wrath of all four families on one day. Despite being a near-impossibility (and the fact they forget to eat anything), Reese and Vince drive to his father, her mother, his mother and her father and try not to kill each other along the way.

So, it's your typical 'coping with my wacky family' bit that we've all seen a thousand times before. Neatly enough, each family member has their own zany personality. Vaughn's father, played by Robert Duvall, is a redneck jerk, while his mother, Sissy Spacek, is a cradle-robbing kook. Witherspoon's mother, played by Mary Steenburgen, is a rampant 'cougar', while her father is stately old Jon Voight, who delivers the tried-and-tested 'family values' speech in front of a roaring fire just in case you forgot IT WAS CHRISTMAS. It's an undemanding story, the kind which simpering dullards won't mind ignoring because they're too busy cooing over the pretty decorations.

There is a through line running through the movie, where Witherspoon and Vaughn bicker over their future (marriage, children, the physical impossibility of sex). Frankly, you'll struggle to care. In The Break-Up, Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston sold their souring relationship with a sharp line in acerbic put-downs. Here, Vaughn and Witherspoon just trade tired put-downs like they can't wait to get home. Rumours of Witherspoon being disgusted with Vaughn's off-set antics (over-eating, being a jerk, general encouraging Trent-like behaviour) make a lot of sense when you see how little chemistry the couple actually share.

It's particularly troubling because Vaughn can knock it out of the park when he's thrown the right pitches. Here, he rolls out his trademark machine-gun patter but fires mostly blanks, thanks to a lame PG-13 script that puts a silencer on his biggest weapon - his foul mouth. Despite a brief pairing with erstwhile writing partner Jon Favreau (playing his Cage Fighting brother, sadly not reprising his role as Pete Becker, UFC wannabe), this is not vintage Vaughn by any means; they might as well have cast Dane Cook for all it matters.

Love Christmas beyond any reasonable logic? You'll probably get a kick out of this - it's warm, cosy, cloying and not ugly to look at. There's even a Steve Wiebe cameo, courtesy of King Of Kong director Seth Gordon. Sadly, it's all about as predictable as socks under the tree and with a late November release, you do wonder exactly which Christmas-philes will consider this an early present.

More:  Comedy  Christmas
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