[Screen It]

(2008) (Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A happily unmarried and childless couple aren't thrilled when their flight to a tropical destination is canceled, meaning they end up having to visit each other's divorced parents on Christmas Day.
Brad (VINCE VAUGHN) and Kate (REESE WITHERSPOON) have been dating for three years, but have no intention of ever getting married or having kids, what with how their respective, divorced parents and families turned out. In fact, they so dislike the thought of getting together with them that not only have they not met the other's families, but they also travel abroad over the holidays to avoid any such get-together, lying that they're bound by charitable work.

When their flight to Fiji is canceled, however, and they end up on the TV news as just one of many stranded holiday travelers, their respective parents call and demand a holiday visit. Their first stop is to see Brad's redneck dad, Howard (ROBERT DUVALL), and his two other sons, Denver (JON FAVREAU) and Dallas (TIM McGRAW), who are amateur ultimate wrestlers. All of them view Brad as being an elitist and do their best to put him in his place.

Next up is a visit to see Kate's mom, Marilyn (MARY STEENBURGEN), and sister, Courtney (KRISTIN CHENOWETH), among others there, who delight in telling Brad embarrassing stories about his live-in girlfriend's past. That is, when they don't attend church presided over by Marilyn's new boyfriend, Pastor Phil (DWIGHT YOAKUM), where the young couple is volunteered to play Joseph and Mary in the Christmas pageant.

That's followed by a trip to see Brad's mom, Paula (SISSY SPACEK), who's now involved with his former best friend from their childhood, Darryl (PATRICK VAN HORN), and then a visit to see Kate's dad, Creighton (JON VOIGHT), who's come to realize the error of his previous ways and the importance of family. As they make their way from one get-together to the next, Brad and Kate come to realize that perhaps they don't know each other as well as they thought they did, and now have different expectations regarding their future together.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
If there's one thing that can be consistently said about Hollywood, it's that it's the gift that keeps on giving. With fairly few exceptions, there's always one or more new movies released every week. Like any gift, some are big and expensive, while others are small and more personal. Some will make you laugh, and others might make you cry, and some are good, while others are so bad you wouldn't even re-gift them to your worst enemies (or then again, maybe you actually would...).

For reasons shortsighted and/or cruel, far more of the latter than the former arrive in the form of holiday movies just when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around each year. While there are the occasional diamonds, most are more akin to lumps of dirty coal, especially with the abrasive holiday flick now back in favor.

And since most of them stem from the holidays adding stress to relationships with family, friends and/or neighbors, the folks behind "Four Christmases" figured if one dysfunctional family get-together is supposed to be funny, then three more should equal four times the fun, laughs and merriment, right?

Alas, about the only thing this woebegone production will do is make viewers steer clear of any such picks for the next four holiday seasons while waiting for the bad taste this one creates to wane. That is, of course, unless you're into family gatherings featuring general uncomfortableness spiced with yelling and screaming, baby vomit, obnoxious kids, pratfalls and other physical comedy, a bunch of talented (and multi-Oscar nominated) performers tainting their careers, and the obvious holiday spirit that manages to rectify most everything just before the end credits roll.

Granted, and in concept, some of the aforementioned can work and range anywhere from amusing and cute to hilarious and inspired, although wrangling all of it into a satisfying whole is a tall order indeed. Unfortunately, neither director Seth Gordon nor his quartet of scribes -- Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore -- manages to pull off any of it.

The result is an annoyingly forced comedy that starts off with a little promise -- a happily unmarried couple (played by Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) spices up their relationship with a little public sexual role playing before preparing to head off on a tropical vacation to avoid spending Christmas with any of their divorced parents' new families -- but quickly falls apart once that trip is canceled and the first of the four familial visits begins.

From the redneck clan (Robert Duvall, Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau appearing peeved that his buddy Vaughn talked him into this) to the fat child with lesbian tendencies of the past stories heard at the next stop (along with baby vomit and the purgatory known as kids in a moon bounce), and the mom (that being Sissy Spacek) sleeping with her son's former best friend to Jon Voight's segment where the comedy team apparently ran dry of jokes and thus went the touchy-feely route, the material simply doesn't work.

Aside from the uninspired, trite and/or occasionally fairly mean comedic attempts, one of the bigger issues is that we simply don't believe in nor care about the couple played by Vaughn and Witherspoon. He's in his usual hyper vocal mode and she's playing a bit against her usual cutesy type, but the lackluster script does them no favors. Their relationship feels like nothing more than a construct, including their eventual realization that they're not right for each other, as well as the sudden about-face at the end that stems from the previously mentioned and requisite holiday warm and fuzzies.

Speaking of that abrupt, concluding switcheroo, the one saving grace is that it mercifully puts an end to this "gift" at around the 80 minute or so mark. All of which means it can quickly be shelved and hopefully forgotten along with other cinematic holiday offerings that are neither wanted nor enjoyed. "Four Christmases" rates as a 2 out of 10, not only for being annoying rather than funny, but also wasting a great deal of talent.

Reviewed November 20, 2008 / Posted November 26, 2008

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