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Case Number 17782

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Four Christmases

Warner Bros. // 2008 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // November 27th, 2009

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All Rise...

Four Christmases? Judge Daniel Kelly likes to have at least nine.

Editor's Note

Our review of Four Christmases (Blu-Ray), published November 24th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

"Boys, I don't want to speak ill of your mother on Christmas, but she's nothing other than a common street whore."

Opening Statement

Vince Vaughn and Christmas don't seem to be a winning comedy combination. After 2007's inexcusably terrible Fred Claus, the comedian has decided to take a second swipe at the festive season, resulting in this mediocre yet talent-filled offering. I suppose in terms of small mercies one should be happy that it doesn't induce spasms of Scrooge-like contempt as promptly as Fred Claus, but still, a few laughs and many yawns don't constitute much of an achievement.

Facts of the Case

Brad (Vince Vaughn, Swingers) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde) never spend Christmas with their families. Each year the anti-marriage couple feed their divorced parents some fabricated story about going abroad to do charity work, whilst in reality they head off to a tropical paradise to celebrate the season in sunnier settings. However this year a fog means that they can't fly out and as a result, the day has to be spent with the dysfunctional divorcees and the rest of their crackerjack clans. Throughout the day the couple starts to learn more about each other as they are exposed to each other's families for the first time, and not every discovery is a good one.

The Evidence

My expectations weren't particularly high concerning Four Christmases. I intentionally skipped it in theatres last year and my initial thoughts suspected sub-par festive frolicking was likely on the menu. Indeed my predictions proved correct. Whilst the tone of Four Christmases isn't as cutesy and conventional as I was expecting, it is nonetheless a decidedly unimpressive comedy. The fact it's not quite the worst festive feature I've ever seen (there are at least a handful weaker) is probably the closest to a recommendation I can provide.

Together Vaughn and Witherspoon have unconvincing chemistry, everything about their onscreen relationship feels limp and forced. Things aren't aided by the fact that the characters themselves have been written like bratty assholes—their extortion of poverty in other countries as a cover story for sun drenched relaxation is horrible, and throughout the movie the pair comes off as snarky and bitter. This adds somewhat to the film's oddly warped tone but is a downer for audience members trying to connect with the heinous duo. Much of the comedy in the feature is mean-spirited, and this likely stems from the harsh and unpleasant aura exuded from the two leads, both on their day decent comic performers, but here misfiring radically.

The other characters are played by the likes of Mary Steenburgen (Step Brothers), Robert Duvall (The Godfather), Jon Favreau (Couples Retreat), Jon Voight (Transformers), and Sissy Spacek (Carrie), all very talented actors, but on this occasion each flies by on a predictably one-note performance. The conceptual hook of visiting four different family households on one day isn't without promise but the supporting figures are so weak and unimaginative that the screenwriters pretty much piss the neat idea away. I'm sure for those working on the film it must have been a major joy to have so many great performers in the same movie but any jubilation on set hasn't made it into the movie. Four Christmases fails to draw flair from even actors and actresses of that caliber, a fact that in itself highlights how questionable and artistically dubious a property it is.

The comic interludes themselves are sitcom level at best, and whilst a few veer down slightly more deranged roads, for the most part they're all disappointing. I giggled at a few of the slapstick-heavy set pieces (a nativity play with added Vaughn is pretty amusing) but mostly was bewildered by the strung out plainness of what was on offer (Witherspoon beating up children for her pregnancy test springs to mind). Also for a motion picture set in the holiday season there appears to be a distinct lack of cheer or warmth; even Jingle All the Way managed to at least capture the colorful Christmas aesthetic. Four Christmases could really be set during any holiday a few sequences aside, an annoyance for those seeking something to get them in a seasonal mindset.

Due to the lack of fizz between the protagonists the movie doesn't really work as a rom-com and the character transformations at the end are bewilderingly ill conceived. Audiences won't care about the relationship or tribulations on screen before them, and neither should they, these filmmakers haven't done enough correctly to earn such a reaction. The musical score is fairly unmemorable and from a technical standpoint the picture is glossy but never remarkable. The DVD comes equipped with solid video and audio capacity but absolutely no extra features.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It's better than Fred Claus.

Closing Statement

It's a below-average festive caper on a vanilla disc. I can't see too many people requesting an item of that description on their Christmas lists this year.

The Verdict

The court finds Four Christmases barely preferable to a lump of coal.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 64
Story: 79
Judgment: 69

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Christmas
• Comedy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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