There are certain film genres that some actors should stay far away from. For years Eddie Murphy made a lot of family flicks that just weren’t very good. Despite that, he kept making them until he finally made one that was good earlier this year with Imagine That, which is an ironic title anyways. Vince Vaughn used to be the hit comedy maker a few years back, but his latest films haven’t been as great. Two years in a row, Vaughn starred in two Christmas comedies. 2007’s Fred Claus was an average comedy romp, if that. Now 2008’s Four Christmases finally makes it to home video. Would this be the film that brings Vaughn out of his comedic coma or would it be just another Christmas comedy that Vince should stay far away from?
Childless and happily unmarried Kate (Reese Witherspoon) and Brad (Vince Vaughn) are a 30-something yuppie couple that have been dating for three years now. In that time, they have avoided meeting each other’s families because they don’t want any backstory. They both make a habit of skipping family get-togethers during the holidays, and instead take a vacation for themselves. However this Christmas, when their flight gets canceled and they show up on the local news, Brad and Kate are forced to visit all four of their divorced parents’ Christmas celebrations. Conveniently, they are all live a short distance from each other. They first visit Brad’s dad Howard (Robert Duvall), a beer-swilling redneck whose other sons Denver and Dallas (Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw respectively) are MMA fanatics with violence issues. A short drive and a world away is Kate’s mother Maryilyn (Mary Steenburgen) a ditzy woman in a pastel McMansion who’s found salvation in a local preacher with hair as big as hers (Dwight Yoakam). Different again is Sissy Spacek, Brad’s mother, as a hippy who’s remarried with one of Brad’s best mates, and Kate’s dad Creighton (Jon Voight), who’s finally settled down with a good, stable, age-appropriate woman.
The main problem with the comedy is the writing, of course. The very premise of a couple not emotionally involved with each other’s family is not really believable. But even if you buy that premise for a meeting and go along with things, Four Christmases makes almost everything else in the film unbelievable as well. Slapstick scenes run amuck, with rude-and-crude humor being thrown out at almost every turn. They only slow down just long enough for the couple to get in the car to drive to the next “Christmas hell”. Well that is until the end, where all of the wackiness must come to an end to deliver some sort of message and happy ending for this couple. Films can be both sentimental and and X-rated as the best of Judd Apatow’s films have proven. Unfortunately, the sentimental stuff in Four Christmases feels forced when compared to all the craziness that occurred before it.
You do have to give credit to the cast, though. Not much credit, since they signed on for this film, but they at least tried to make something good from a lackluster script. Vince Vaughn is, of course, a natural in this role. He is at his improvised best. Reese Witherspoon is also an underrated comic star, and she is able to keep up with Vaughn just enough to keep things moving. The supporting cast is also pretty strong. You couldn’t find better choices for the four parents in this film than Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, and Jon Voight. Equally good casting as Brad and Kate’s siblings are Jon Favreau, Tim McGraw, and Kristen Chenoweth. They all look like they are having fun on screen. That still can’t hide the fact that all of their characters are stereotypes to the worst degree.
Whoever did the casting for Four Christmases should be given an award for sure as that is the best aspect. It’s too bad the writers couldn’t write interesting characters for these actors to portray. Nor could they create a believable story that balanced the gross-out humor with sentimental moments. If you like nothing but slapstick moment after slapstick moment in holiday films, Four Christmases is the film for you to watch. But if you want to heart that doesn’t feel out of place, you are better off watching the more classic Christmas films of long ago. Hopefully Vince Vaughn will take a few years off before making another Christmas comedy.
The video included is available in both widescreen color presented at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, which is enhanced for 16:9 TVs, and fullscreen 1.33:1 color. The quality is great, but you shouldn’t expect anything less than that since this is a newer film. No major problems here.
The audio included is available in either English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English as well. The dialogue and music come out loud and clear, so no major problems here either. Again, you shouldn’t expect anything less.
There are no extras on this DVD.
Four Christmases is a decent Christmas comedy, but only as a rental. Though if you are a hardcore fan of either Witherspoon or Vaughn, you better pick it up, so the collection can be complete.
Warner Bros. Video presents Four Christmases. Directed by Seth Gordon. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Jon Favreau and Kristin Chenoweth. Written by Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, and Scott Moore. Running time: 82 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: November 10, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Christmas, Jon Favreau, Jon Voight, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Vince Vaughn