GENRE: Acerbic seasonal comedy
THE PITCH: Happily unmarried yuppie couple Brad and Kate (Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) get a crash course in family togetherness when forced to make four separate visits to their divorced parents (Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek and Jon Voight, all Oscar winners) one foggy Christmas day.
MONEY SHOTS: Brad's backyard-wrestling brothers (country singer Tim McGraw and Swingers' Jon Favreau) pin him in undignified positions. Brad's attempt to install his father's satellite dish ends up with a wrecked living room and a TV in flames. Out of nowhere, Kate's niece drenches her with projectile vomiting, setting off Brad's gag reflex. Brad showboats as Joseph at a church nativity show.
BEST LINE: "My childhood was like The Shawshank Redemption," laments Brad while explaining that he changed his name from Orlando.
LAMEST LINE: "We thank you, dear Lord, because there's nothing more important than family," declares Voight (the "tolerable" parent) at Christmas dinner. The film wants to have its family-bashing fruitcake and eat it, too.
DUMBEST LINE FROM THE GUY SITTING NEXT TO ME: Kate's sister (Kristin Chenoweth, a perfect foil for Witherspoon) describes the honesty in her marriage – "He knows I slept with the entire water polo team, just like I know he experimented with men" – prompting the guy next to me to exclaim, "That's so gay!" Well, yeah.
FLESH FACTOR: Chenoweth and Brad's sister-in-law (Katy Mixon), both breast-feeding moms, show off round, tan cleavage, partly as a means to set off child-averse Kate's maternal instincts.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Well over a foot shorter than Vaughn, Witherspoon totters on super-high heels that nearly tilt her feet to 90-degree angles.
CAMEOS: Director Seth Gordon, who helmed the documentary The King of Kong, casts underdog Donkey Kong player Steve Wiebe in a silent role. Vaughn's longtime pal and producer Peter Billingsley, who starred in the truly wonderful holiday movie A Christmas Story, plays a bit part as an unhelpful airline employee. Former Atlantan Brian Baumgartner of "The Office" has two funny lines at an office party scene.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: A tense round of the board game Taboo takes place at Spacek's house and includes the exchange, "The only man I'm allowed to cheat on you with." "John Grisham!" Brad and Kate drive around the Bay Area in a black Range Rover.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: So Brad and Kate have never met anyone in each other's families after three years together, even though they all live in the Bay Area? How is that even possible?
THE BOTTOM LINE: Vaughn and Witherspoon seem like a great comic team on paper, but his role's so uptight and they're both so disgustingly happy (at first) that sparks never really fly. Four Christmases features some laugh-out-loud Meet the Parents-style situations, particularly at Duvall and Steenburgen's homes, but wimps out rather than affirm Brad and Kate's initial anti-family attitudes. Sometimes you want a lump of coal in your stocking.
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