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Four Christmases

More Isnít Always Better

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

You'd think that Christmas would attract some of the year's more quality films, right? Christmas should inspire great stories. Instead Christmas has become a dreaded movie theme in recent years. Sure, there's the rare gem like Love, Actually but the past decade has been plagued with awful Christmas comedies. Unfortunately, Four Christmases wonít save the day.

The premise is simple. A couple, Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, despise their dysfunctional families and decide, instead, to go on exotic vacations every Christmas -- telling their families theyíre performing charity work -- instead of enduring excruciating quality time with their so-called loved ones. This year, however, bad weather grounds all flights and theyíre caught on the local news. Thus, their worst fear has come true and they must spend the holidays with all four of their parents.

Why do they have such a loathing of the holidays, though? Growing up with divorced parents, both are scarred and view family life as one of disappointment and sadness (theyíve already decided never to get married or have kids). Yet, as they make their way from one disaster to the next they discover -- gasp! -- that maybe their aversion to love has put up a barrier between the two of them. And despite the disasters at each of their parentsí house, the Christmas spirit teaches them what family is all about.

Unlike other catastrophic Christmas films, Four Christmases is more frustrating to watch than most. Having such a talented cast like Vaughn, Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, John Voight, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen and John Favreau, itís torture to watch them all try so hard to make us laugh and fail. It's surprising that after last year's disaster, Fred Clause, Vince Vaughn is willing to give the yuletide theme another shot.

Many may see Vaughn as just a comedy sell-out -- which, honestly, is what he's on the fast track to becoming -- but he truly is a great actor, so itís sad to see him doing a mere caricature of himself. Recently, itís been his smaller, more dramatic roles that have been his most rewarding. His small role in last year's Into the Wild was wonderful to watch, as was his part as a high school teacher in Thumbsucker. I'm telling myself that he either has a terrible agent, or that he just doesn't care anymore. I fear the latter.

Itís not so bad for Witherspoon, who doesnít already have a reputation for comedy and who probably just thought that it would be fun and easy to be in a holiday flick. Next time she should choose more wisely, however. Another casualty is director Seth Gordon who makes his feature length directorial debut. His breakout film was the documentary, The King of Kong, about a regular guy trying to break the high score record for the Donkey Kong arcade game. What started out as a small tale of a regular guy chasing a dream, it ended up being an engaging story of the small guy vs. the world. Ironically, a solid, gripping story is exactly what Four Christmases lacks. As director Gordon will have to bear some of the blame, but, ultimately, Four Christmases has all the symptoms of a Studio piece. The editing is blatantly poor and the consequence is that the overarching story of this couple overcoming their fear is hanging by a thread.

While Vaughn will be hit hardest for this, itís not a career destroyer for anyone involved. Itíll just be another entry on their IMDB page that will show up every December on TBS. I still have hope for Gordon as a director and I know that all these actors can do, and have already done, better. For now, Iíll stick to my classic Christmas comedies like A Christmas Story and Home Alone.