Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

You know I can halfway relate to Vince, Reese and them and their situation in this movie ĎFour Christmasesí. My parents were divorced, though I was a grown man by the time they finally got sick and tired of each other, and my wifeís parents are divorced as well. Fortunately we only had to do two Christmases since my mom lived in Kentucky and my old man lived in Mississippi, so we just did the in-laws, which was still a bit of a trip. The real winner in this situation was my son who got four sets of gifts from four households of grandparents, all upping the ante in attempts to make the other grandparents look bad. I never got jack from my grandparents. The bitterness still burns deep inside.

Anyway, Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) are a couple of free-wheeling urbanites who are loving each other and loving life even more. They could settle down, get married and have kids but considering what theyíve seen from their parents, they are more than content to just live for the moment and avoid their dysfunctional families during the holidays by taking exotic Christmas vacations. Call me a psychic, but Iím thinking their feelings about the glorious institution will change by the time the final credits roll. As luck would have it a movie generated plot device occurs with derails this yearís exotic vacation, thus forcing Brad and Kate to make four uncomfortable stops at their parentís homes and face the music.

First itís off to meet Bradís hardened father Howard (Robert Duvall) and his developmentally stunted brothers Denver (John Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw), who as it so happens make their living being ultimate fighters. Things donít go so well for Brad during this visit as he is routinely abused by his brothers, though he is to blame for a lot of this abuse, Kate learns some secrets about ĎBradí and worst still he somehow manages to set his fathers house on fire.

Next it is off to visit Kateís mother Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), a place that Kate affectionately calls a Ďden of cougarsí. Similar to Bradís visit things donít go so well for Kate, with Brad also learning a few things about Kate that she would have preferred to keep secret. After a rather rousing visit to Marilynís church and meeting her new pastor boyfriend Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakum), Kateís previous opinions towards love, marriage, children and Brad are starting to change a little bit.

Two down two to go as we travel to meet Bradís free-spirited mother Paula (Sissy Spacek) and her live in lover Darryl (Patrick Van Horn), who is around Bradís age. This happens to be more than just a coincidence. Now things are becoming clearer to Kate as she has completely flipped the script on what she wants out of life, and our man Brad is not even close to being in lock step with his womanís new life plan.

Finally itís off to meet Kateís old dude Creighton (Jon Voight) as all the wackiness has come to an end, and our film has settled into full sentimentality mode. Creighton says all kinds of wise sage old-dude like stuff to his daughter, while Brad goes back to see his old man, who recites his bitter view of the world, as Kate and Brad have apparently come to the end of their good-time ride. We just hope that Brad can see the light of love that is blinding him square in his face. Or something along those lines.

So all the major players in this movie, with the exception of Vince Vaughn, that would be Reese Witherspoon and the four parents has an Academy Award on their mantle, and though the closest Mr. Vaughn will probably come to an Oscar would be if Robert Duvall lets him touch his, ĎFour Christmasesí is completely worthless without him. Completely. As a comedy the film starts off fairly strong, at least in making me laugh, with part of the comedy being the absurdity of the obnoxious Vince Vaughn, who in Hollywood measurements is well over seven feet tall, and the microscopic but classy Reese Witherspoon, somehow even being matched together as a couple. ĎFour Christmasesí actually reaches the height of its comic promise when Brad visits his dad and his hateful brothers, but unfortunately since this it the first place they go it all gradually gets less and less funny from there.

I would imagine with the pedigree of the actors in this movie, director Seth Gordon wanted to give all of his adorned stars a little something to do, and while they were as good as advertised, this stretched the story so thin that thereís almost no story at all. What we are left with is a series of loosely connected skits full of pratfalls, incredibly bratty kids (which I personally canít stand Ė but that is a personal thing), a touch of grossness, a little holiday brutality and finally some forced sentimental crap. But it is a ĎChristmas Movieí so I suppose forced sentimental crap is the order of the day.

Now this isnít to say that Vince Vaughn saved the movie because by about the halfway point the movie is pretty much beyond saving, but he is a funny dude and every time he does that Vince Vaughn thing he does, I ended up laughing. You might want to take that with a grain of salt because if you donít like Vince Vaughn, I doubt you will even get the slight enjoyment out of the movie that I got out of it, unless you have a thing for badly telegraphed happy endings. On an unrelated note it was cool to see a grown up Peter Billingsley in a bit of cameo in another Christmas Story. More or less.

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