Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“The King of Kong”)
Written by: Matt Allen (debut), Caleb Wilson (debut), Jon Lucas (“Rebound”), Scott Moore (“Rebound”)
You have to feel a little sorry for director Seth Gordon. After helming 2007’s “The King of Kong,” a well-received and very entertaining documentary about a video game rivalry between two Donkey Kong world-record holders, he somehow finds himself stuck with four unproven screenwriters during his first feature, “Four Christmases.”
To make matters worse, “Four Christmases” isn’t the kind of holiday family movie a writer can really use to spread his or her wings. It’s a basic Christmas slapstick comedy where most of the characters end up on their backs in the most painful ways and someone learns a valuable lesson about the importance of family.
Unlike other crappy Christmas comedies in recent years like “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Surviving Christmas,” the only thing “Four Christmases” has going for it is likeable albeit mismatched lead characters. Vince Vaughn (who was also pretty bad in last year’s holiday horror “Fred Claus”) and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, a couple who decides to take a vacation to Fiji instead of visiting their families for Christmas.
The weather, however, doesn’t cooperate with their plans and Brad and Kate are forced to make four separate trips to their divorced parents when they’re caught on the local news trying to make a break for it at the airport.
Each home visit brings along its own cliché family calamity. For example, at the backwoods home of Brad’s dad Howard (Robert Duvall), social statuses clash when Brad’s cage-fighting brothers Denver (Jon Faveru) and Dallas (Tim McGraw) are offended when he buys the family expensive gifts. Other parents on the list to receive a yuletide house call: Brad’s mom Paula (Sissy Spacek) and her much-younger lover, Kate’s mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), who has started dating a church pastor (insert baby Jesus jokes here), and Kate’s dad Creighton (Jon Voight), who’s really the heart of the whole movie but is cut short by a thinned-out script.
Cheesy joke after cheesy joke, “Four Christmases” might not make you gag as badly as Brad does when he sees a baby puke, but you definitely won’t feel good after watching these family members butt heads under the mistletoe. Nor should director Gordon feel too terrible for squeezing as much as he possibly could from the mess he was handed. Making mansions out of matchsticks probably isn’t easy either.