They say the suicide rate always spikes at Christmas. Somebody alert the Samaritans – Christmas came early this year.
Why are so many Christmas movies so bad? Maybe because they’re only interested milking the holy cash cow? Just a theory, obviously. But Four Christmases really takes the biscuit. This is one horrible, horrible movie.
It takes about three minutes to clarify that this is not family entertainment (it gets a lenient 12 certificate), with yuppies Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) spicing up their three year relationship with some cute, nasty role playing antics.
First impressions: they’re a mismatched couple. He’s too tall for her by about three storeys, and, wow, maybe three belt notches too wide (not that it stops him from cracking wise about Kate’s porky baby pictures later). Also, these are not good people. Their thing is, to avoid spending Christmas with their families; they tell them that they’re doing charity work in the Third World. Then they jet off to Hawaii, Bali, or wherever.
This year, though, the plan hits a snag. All flights out of San Francisco are grounded because of heavy fog. Worse, Kate and Brad are interviewed at the airport by the local TV news. There’s nothing for it. They’re going to have to visit all four (divorced) parents in one day!
Okay, so the logic is a bit suspect. But imagine the logistics: let’s be generous and assume our happy couple are at the airport for a dawn flight. They have to drive home and get changed. Drive out to the sticks to visit Brad’s ornery old dad (Robert Duvall) and his redneck brothers Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw)… do the presents… fix up his satellite dish… Drive off to visit Kate’s flighty mom (Mary Steenburgen), her sister (Kristin Chenoweth) and little niece. Kate impetuously steals her sister’s pregnancy test (what new mom doesn’t carry one around in the baby pack?), then has to face her fear of bouncy castles to retrieve it from her klepto niece… Then it’s off to Church, because mom has taken up with Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakam), and Brad and Kate are yoked into playing Joseph and Mary in the nativity play… Now it’s time for Brad’s mom (Sissy Spacek), who is living with his ex-best friend and who it’s quite impossible to imagine with Duvall (Sissy, it’s good to have you back). A quick board game. Some dinner. And – will this never end? – there’s still one more parent to go (Jon Voight)…
It’s mind-boggling how awful this is… my only explanation, you may recall there was a writers’ strike at the beginning of the year. That meant several pictures were rushed into production without due process, and without recourse to those rewrites that often go on well into a shoot.
Directed by Seth Gordon, who made the good documentary King of Kong, but plainly has no idea how to shoot slapstick, Four Christmases wants to tell us that families are impossible, but they’re who we are and we better just accept it. But it’s such a charmless, crass, vulgar movie, so full of insufferable characters, so casually thought out and sloppily made, its real message is pure misanthropy. The only legitimate use for such cack will be in a year’s time, when you’re scouting around for a gift for that obnoxious cousin you really can’t stand.
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