Everyone loves a Christmas movie, especially those that ring true to the Christmas spirit. While “Four Christmases” won’t join the ranks of holiday classics like “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” it is still worth the watch. It boasts a cheesy and unrealistic plot, but this film is a clear breakthrough movie for director Seth Gordon (“The King of Kong”), and adequately demonstrates his ability to produce a decent movie worthy of the big screen.
Every year during Christmas, Brad (Vince Vaughn, “Fred Claus”) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon, “Rendition”) ditch family gatherings under the pretense of volunteering in a foreign country. In actuality, this blunt and eccentric couple takes vacations to the tropics instead. After their flight is cancelled and their plan to leave the country is foiled on national television, Brad and Kate are forced into committing themselves to four different holiday get-togethers. As the movie’s tagline suggests, they have to visit “His father, her mother, his mother and her father all in one day.”
From there, the movie is beyond predictable, but tolerable. The plot progresses through the four Christmas parties, with each family portrayed as examples of dysfunction in a worst-case scenario fashion.
Yet in the same way the families are dysfunctional, so is the structure of the plot. The movie opens with high energy and genuine comedy, such as when Brad is humiliated by his brothers in an intense and unpredictable sequence of events. From there, the plot continues to move along at a quick pace, but is brought to an abrupt halt by an awkward church scene in which Kate and Brad, after merely attending a church service, end up in a Christmas play. It’s understandable to want to break up the mundane sequence of events of simply going to each house with something different, but this scene does not move the plot along, and is more of a Vaughn rant than anything else. Nevertheless, the story quickly develops into a tale of self-reflection, where Brad and Kate recognize where they are in their relationship and where they are going.
At times, however, the movie tries too hard to be comical. We all love a joke and after all this is a comedy ? but throwing in crass humor that is neither relevant to the scene nor the situational context makes a few jokes seem out of place. While this movie does have its shining moments of hilarity, it’s hit-or-miss.
Without a cast that includes Vaughn, Witherspoon, Robert Duvall (“We Own the Night”) — who plays Brad’s father — and others, this movie would never have made it to theaters. If there’s anyone who can pull off such a contrived plot and turn it into the best holiday movie of the year, it is these actors. By relying on bland, physical slapstick comedy, the audience gets caught up in the scenes and fails to realize the downfalls of the simple plot. It is not going to be a holiday classic, but if all you want for Christmas a cheap laugh, “Four Christmases” will give you one.
2 1/2 stars out of 5.