Remember that Will & Grace episode where they had to go to multiple Thanksgiving holidays? Well, someone went and regurgitated it as the new Vince Vaughn/ Reese Witherspoon vehicle Four Christmases, and it’s not as awful as you might fear. Given the retread plot, it’s up to the amazing cast of actors to save Four Christmases from the return counter.
Reese Witherspoon is a hilarious control freak with high school secrets, while her boyfriend Vince Vaughn is the doughy product of the divorce of a gun-loving misanthrope and a Buddha-loving free spirit (Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, who should have been given a much better movie to be in). Mary Steenburgen and Jon Voight play Witherspoon’s parents, who have divorced as well. Who wouldn’t divorce Voight for supporting McCain and Palin?
The film is basically a big screen sitcom with very good actors, and the plot couldn’t be simpler or more simply directed. Reese and Vince (since using their character names would indicate that they had characters to play) are a happily dating couple who escape to romantic getaways every holiday to avoid their terrible parents. Surprisingly, given that they live in San Francisco, they have never been fogged in before, but find themselves in that position and broadcast on the local news. The jig is up and they have to go to all four parents’ homes instead of their wonderful Fiji adventure.
Of course, the film is then split into four visits from hell, first with Vaughn’s white trash father and brothers. Jon Favreau is a lot of fun as his cage-fighting brother, Denver, who proceeds to humiliate his former Swingers cast mate in fairly homoerotic fashion. Steenburgen gets to shine as Witherspoon’s suddenly Holy Roller cougar of a mom, who’s now smitten with a local mega-pastor (Dwight Yoakum). Country fans will also enjoy seeing Tim McGraw as Vaughn’s other brother Dallas. The boys are all named for the cities where they were conceived, but Vaughn kept his real name Orlando from Kate, I mean Reese.
The humor is almost fully based on the high-caliber cast, while the script probably wouldn’t have made it as a Fox family sitcom without the stars attached. With a lesser cast, Four Christmases would have been four too many, but as it is, it’s a merry mediocre way to spend you holiday dough.
UPDATE: Four Christmases is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.