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'Four Christmases' lacks holiday joy

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008

Just minutes into the first of the quartet of holidays promised by "Four Christmases," a feeling of dread sets in: What? We've got three more of these things to get through?

Courtesy Of New Line Cinema
Courtesy Of New Line Cinema

As the Official Christmas movie of 2008, it matches the economic realities of the year: Desperate, depressing, and built on a foundation of junk.

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play a self-absorbed yuppie couple in San Francisco who, when we first meet them, are having sex in a public bathroom.

Ah, good times. Nothing says Christmas like sex in a public bathroom.

They don't want to get married or have kids or have anything to do with their families, since all that would interfere with their vacation plans. But through a painfully unpersuasive plot twist, they have to put off Fiji this year and do drop-in visits at their parents' houses.

Each parent is divorced, so that makes four trips into the inferno.

So off they go in their black Range Rover, which gets almost as much screen time as the stars.

First up is a stop at the house of Vaughn's white trash dad (Robert Duvall, who must need the money). It's also home to some bratty kids and Vaughn's brothers, played by Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw. They're "semi-pro cage wrestlers," so that means they randomly punch/tackle/kick Vaughn, just for the heck of it. Not funny.

It goes even more downhill from here, dragging in thespians Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakum and Kristin Chenoweth.

It's a deliberate bad-taste comedy, but the comic scenes are clunky and forgettable. And the sentiment - you knew it was coming - is sticky and obvious.

"There's nothing more important than family," Jon Voight actually says. Remarkably, four screenwriters are given credit for the script.

Vaughn, who seems to be impersonating himself, is funny in spots. He can make even the tired rants offered here seem kind of amusing, just with that manic and glib delivery. And Witherspoon is still so cute you just want to give her cheek a little pinch.

There's a dirty-mouthed granny who gets perhaps the biggest laugh of the movie. But if you've seen one dirty-mouthed granny (and who hasn't?), you've seen them all.

The movie's directed, shabbily, by Seth Gordon, who once upon a time made a terrific video-game documentary named "The King of Kong," which had more laughs in five minutes than this does in its entire length.

But hey, for some good news: It's only 82 minutes long.



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