Seth Gordon’s feature debut is unfortunately a lackluster affair, though is saved from being a complete atrocity from the work of Vince Vaughn (though, he has been far, far better at times).
Brad and Kate have been a happily unmarried couple for three years now, they are successful, live together, and have no interest in spending anytime with each others and own families. Choosing to lie about trips to help third world countries when they actually go on fun vacations for themselves over the holidays, their families are oblivious until they are happened to be interviewed at the airport after every flight out of San Francisco has been canceled due to fog. Seeing there children on the news, their respective parents (conveniently all divorced for plots sake) call them up and invite them to Christmas leaving them with four houses to hit in one day.
The movie from here takes the couple on a journey from one side to the other, and does a very poor job of finding a balance of anything. Take for instance the first stop at Vince Vaughn’s fathers house which tries to find humor in Vaughn and Witherspoon having more money to spend on gifts then Vaughn’s slightly impoverished brothers. We are left to watch a pair of kids bash their Dad for being poor and only being able to come up with getting him a flashlight for Christmas. It wasn’t even close to being funny; in fact it was closer to being incredibly sad. And that is what hurts this film, in that it is unable to strike the right cord on many attempts at humor. Making a joke out of a disadvantaged family member is a staple of holiday films, but it is a light jab, and if they jab seems a bit too hard, the one throwing the punches usually comes through for them in the end. Also, Robert Duvall’s loud and proud to be poor shtick just doesn’t work at all, and the final scene with him makes him even more sad and pathetic and does nothing to redeem him.
Their second stop of the day takes them to the “cougar den” of W1itherdspoon’s mother, who has found love in a pastor but still finds time to hit on Vince Vaughn, along with all the other female family members in the household. This scene actually works fairly well for the most part, but goes off the hinges as it drags on into a mass service, that is only watchable due to some solid one liner’s from Vince Vaughn. Though the best bit from this film comes in the “cougar den” when Gordon gives us a Steve Wiebe (and props to you if you know who that is) cameo which was my personal highlight of the film, by far, and made me wish I was watching Gordon’s movie with him instead.
The biggest advantage of the third stop is to see Sue, Mikey, and Trent from Swingers all re-united, Gordon must be a fan. Though I must say that one of the few bits I enjoyed from the film was Jon Favreau and his wife cleaning house in the board game they were all playing together. Also to keep as stereotypical as possible, the sub-plot of Vaughn and Witherspoon possibly not quite being right for each other comes right on cue, and take a wild guess if they work it out.
Gordon’s film just doesn’t work for me here, and it’s a shame following his amazing debut, but he never finds a good flow of jokes, pacing, or story. His main characters are both considerably unlikeable and not very good people and for that to work they would have to be a lot more interesting or vile to make me want to watch them. Everything story wise also feels stale and fairly unoriginal and it just makes me sad that Gordon picked such a poor script to break into the feature business.
Vaughn is about the only interesting thing in the film and while he provides a number of laughs along the way, it’s a weak performance by his standards, and there is little help to surround him. Witherspoon brings nothing special to the table, outside beating some small children, and her comedy work is nothing spectacular. Jon Favreau is the only other saving grace in the film, but again like Vaughn, we have seen much better from him.
In the end, Four Christmases is a weak holiday film and a weak comedy. There are a ton options out there for your holiday viewings, and you don’t even have to leave your house. If you enjoy Vaughn it might be worth a rental, otherwise there is no real reason to see this movie. Though, the saddest thing about this movie is the fact that Seth Gordon has made a dud. Let’s just hope that he did it to secure some financial confidence with the studio and creates something more original and interesting with his next film.
P.S. Go rent The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Gordon’s previous documentary, and learn about Steve Wiebe.