New Line // 2008 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 24th, 2009
His father, her mother, his mother, and her father...all in one day.
"Hey boy...did you forget your tampons?"
Brad (Vince Vaughn, Couples Retreat) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line) have been in a happy romantic relationship for three years. Brad and Kate like to take life easy, and they don't want their carefree set-up to change: no marriage, no kids, and no hassles. When the holidays roll around each year, Brad and Kate generally go on vacation, instead of spending time with their eccentric families. This year, that's going to change. Brad and Kate's flight to Fiji gets cancelled, leaving the happy couple with no excuse not to visit their relatives. Over the course of a single day, they'll go to four different houses (both sets of parents are separated) and participate in four different Christmas celebrations. Will their relationship survive the gauntlet?
Four Christmases is essentially a series of sitcom pitches strung together into a single film. All four ideas are wheezy and unimaginative, but each starts and ends with such speed that the film manages to feel a bit more tolerable and breezy than similarly-contrived holiday films without even trying. That's not saying much -- anybody remember Christmas with the Kranks or Surviving Christmas? -- but it's something.
Let's tackle the tales one by one.
Episode I: Casa Macho
Brad and Kate begin by visiting Brad's father Howard (Robert Duvall, The Apostle), a mean old cuss who sits around drinking beer and generally being nasty. Brad's brothers, Denver (Jon Favreau, Iron Man) and Dallas (Tim McGraw, Friday Night Lights) -- who just so happen to be amateur wrestlers -- are also present. No sooner does Brad walk in the door than his brothers start beating him up. It's all just manly fun, after all. Duvall sits in his rocking chair and laughs, while Denver's dumb wife Susan (Katy Mixon, Eastbound and Down) invites Kate to touch her nipples (which have been hardened from nine months of nursing).
Crazy Ending: Brad and his family attempt to install a satellite dish on the roof, and nearly destroy Howard's home as a result.
Would It Make a Good Sitcom? No, because all of the characters, except for Brad and Kate, are basically the same; well, Howard is a little bit meaner than everyone else (which is saying something) and Susan is a little bit dumber (which is really saying something).
Episode II: Casa Cougar
Next up is Kate's mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen, Step Brothers), a certified "cougar" who has apparently invited all of her many cougar friends over for Christmas. She and her friends spend some time fondling Brad and showing him pictures of young Kate (who was apparently a very, very, very fat child that would never in a million years actually turn out looking like Reese Witherspoon, even if she did lose that weight). Meanwhile, a bratty little girl steals Kate's pregnancy test, forcing Kate to engage in a battle with numerous children intent on playing "keepaway" with Kate's results.
Crazy Ending: Brad and Kate end up playing Joseph and Mary in a crazed adaptation of the nativity story at Marilyn's church.
Would It Make a Good Sitcom? Nope, not as broadly and unimaginatively as these cougars are portrayed. See Courtney Cox's far superior Cougar Town, currently airing on ABC.
Episode III: Casa Cougar, Extra-Weird Edition
It would seem that Brad's mom Paula (Sissy Spacek, Carrie) is also quite the cougar. In fact, she's actually married Brad's childhood best friend Jim (Steve Wiebe, The King of Kong). This freaks Brad out, and he refuses to accept Jim's offer of friendship. In an attempt to calm everyone down, Kate suggests everyone relax over a game of Taboo. The game is anything but relaxing.
Crazy Ending: Sissy Spacek starts pushing a noisy buzzer with incessant fervor.
Would It Make a Good Sitcom? Nah. It would basically be the same as the previous idea, and the "Mom's married to her son's best friend," angle could only be mined for so many laughs.
Episode IV: Casa Somber
In this final segment, the film's sense of comedy quickly dies, only to be replaced by a sense of gloom and reflection. Brad and Kate have a fight, after Kate decides that she is going to be a completely different person than she was at the beginning of the day. As a result, they temporarily break up. Kate goes off by herself to visit her father Creighton (Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy), who delivers some wise and serious advice. Kate nods solemnly. Meanwhile, Brad decides he wants to change completely as well, in order to be in line with Kate's new beliefs, so he goes back to her.
Crazy Ending: Two independent, unique people force themselves to become much more ordinary, relatable individuals. One of us! One of us! Oh, and some projectile baby vomit.
Would It Make a Good Sitcom? Actually, this section plays much more like a daytime soap opera, but not a particularly interesting one. Pass.
And before you know it, the credits are rolling.
Taken together as a package, these four pieces boast enough stars and tonal differences to keep one from getting too bored during an initial viewing. Basically, it's a lemon that's running on fumes, but it's something and it's running. I would never dream of recommending it, though. You may be wondering why I haven't really talked about the performances. They aren't worth talking about. Everyone in the film (with the possible exception of an off-the-wall Favreau) doesn't even seem to be trying to make a good impression. Vaughn and Witherspoon don't so much act in the film as wander through it.
The Blu-ray transfer is adequate, if hardly eye-popping. Flesh tones are warm and accurate, fine detail is solid throughout, and blacks are moderately deep most of the time. There are a few shading issues at times, but nothing too serious. The candy-coated color scheme is vibrant and glossy, appropriate enough for a slick and empty production like this one. The TrueHD audio is similarly satisfactory, coming through with reasonable clarity without really making a huge impression. A few aggressive Christmas tunes will make your subwoofer rumble a little bit, but overall this is a standard comedy track that goes to little effort to really show off.
The DVD is a completely bare-bones release, but the Blu-ray does include a handful of supplements. "Four Christmases: Holiday Moments" (10 minutes) features the cast members describing scenes from the film, which seems rather pointless; "HBO First Look: Four Christmases" (13 minutes) is a banal making-of featurette; and "Seven Layer Holiday Meals in a Flash" features cooking tips from actress Katy Mixon and Paula Dean. What? Say what? Okay. You also get a gag reel, deleted scenes, and BD-Live functionality. Oh, and you get a digital copy.
All I want for Christmas is a movie that doesn't feel like a cheap cash-grab.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Digital Copy