Monday, November 30, 2009

Under 250: Four Christmases


Four Christmases is a film that feels only tangentially related to the December holidays, and since it takes place out in California, there's almost no trace of anything seasonal. You could call this movie Four Easters, Four Fourths, Four Memorial Day BBQs, Four Engagement Parties, anything, really. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn play a self-involved couple who'd rather not acknowledge the turmoil and embarrassment of their relatives, noting that you can't spell "families" without the "lies", they invent charity work and excuse themselves from the obligatory get togethers. They've been doing this for years (and rightly so, their families are filled to the brim with horrible people), but this Christmas they get caught. Thus, in one day, they're forced to make the rounds and deal with UFC trained ball busting brothers, mothers who date former best friends, a cougar den of predatory women, a torturous 'jump jump', and the generally awful truths of family and one another's pasts. The concept is a solid one, four separate vignettes rife with opportunity for comedy and fresh characters. But, Vaughn and Witherspoon don't have the chemistry to pull the plots together (or make us care), and the script doesn't have the maturity (or heart) to give us a comedy for the ages. Instead, the laughs (and in spite of its all, there are laughs) tend towards the remarkably juvenile. Segments last too long, occurrences seem too forced, the overall nature and taste of the film is too trite and slapsticky to make the stories worthwhile. All the women are nymphomanical, all the men stereotypically violent. Four Christmases can't decide if it's a dark comedy or sentimental holiday fare, and it veers wildly between the two, creating something frail and irritating when its conflicting impulses meet. Maybe if they'd cast a more likable, less hyper-talkative leading man, maybe if they'd avoided the obvious gags, maybe if the humor hadn't been so cheap, it could have been more than a mild amusement.


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