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When upscale, happily unmarried San Francisco couple Kate and Brad find themselves socked in by fog on Christmas morning, their exotic vacation plans morph into the family-centric holiday they had, until now, gleefully avoided. Out of obligation--and unable to escape--they trudge to not one, not two, but four relative-choked festivities, increasingly mortified to find childhood fears raised, adolescent wounds reopened... and their very future together uncertain. As Brad counts the hours to when he can get away from their parents, step-parents, siblings and an assortment of nieces and nephews, Kate is starting to hear the ticking of a different kind of clock. And by the end of the day, she is beginning to wonder if their crazy families' choices are not so crazy after all.
For more about Four Christmases and the Four Christmases Blu-ray release, see Four Christmases Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on November 21, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau
Director: Seth Gordon
» See full cast & crew
Four Christmases Blu-ray Review
Wrong review. I believe you're looking for 'Love Actually.'
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 21, 2009
How many limp one-liners, smarmy characters, and grating gags does it take to get to the center of a misguided holiday romp? If first-time feature film director Seth Gordon's Four Christmases is any indication, too many to stomach in one sitting. What his film boasts in talented Hollywood heavyweights -- Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon may be front and center, but Jon Voight, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Favreau and others fill out the rest of the cast -- it lacks in likable characters, simple wit, and charm. Where it succeeds in concept, it fails in execution, ripping both the spirit and soul from Christmas' still-beating heart. What it achieves in terms of chemistry and timing, it fumbles in terms of joyless humor, vile payoffs, and a terribly spotty script cobbled together by four... yep, count em, four screenwriters. Make no mistake, despite its best intentions and most alluring trappings, Four Christmases is as dull and deliberate as holiday comedies come.
It all begins well enough. After telling their extended families they won't be able to attend any Christmas celebrations due to their overseas charity work -- a lie that comes back to bite them when a local news reporter catches them preparing to board a plane for a decidedly uncharitable Fiji vacation -- healthily unmarried sophisticates Brad and Kate (Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) are distraught when widespread airline delays ruin their holiday getaway plans. Forced to visit their four divorced parents in the course of a single day, Brad and Kate prepare for the worst. The first leg of their trip brings them to Brad's father (Robert Duvall), a cantankerous cuss who raised his other sons, Dallas (Tim McGraw) and Denver (Jon Favreau), to be aggressive, arrogant monsters. From there, they visit Kate's mother (Mary Steenburgen), a "reformed" cougar dating a semi-sleazy pastor (Dwight Yoakam), and her sister (Kristin Chenoweth), a sweet but competitive mother of two who's more than willing to share childhood stories. Next, they stop in to see Brad's mother (Sissy Spacek), an overbearing mouse married to her son's best friend from high school. They end the day with a visit with Kate's father (Jon Voight), the lone source of normalcy in a film full of dim-witted lunatics and selfish, short-sighted braggarts.
There are laughs buried within Four Christmases, but they're few and far between. With each visit, Brad and Kate are reduced to hot-tempered caricatures; clichéd genre misfits clearly being vetted for the sizable life-lesson that inevitably comes when their mounting dissatisfaction with each other brings them to a crossroads. The majority of their family members are ugly and abusive as well, hardly the sort of examples that would push the couple towards true bliss. There are also several strong storylines surging just beneath Gordon's shallow production -- Vaughn and Duvall's life changing chat and Witherspoon and Voight's tender heart-to-heart are admittedly moving -- but they get lost in the madness of their aloof mothers, shrewd siblings, and heartless nieces and nephews. The resulting misfire is a bizarre blend of repulsive characters, revolting scenarios, and disjointed saccharine exchanges that lend little resonance or relevance to the tale. For all their early onset charisma, Brad and Kate are revealed as liars and cowards; emotional parasites whose dishonesty somehow seems wise and reasonable. Granted, I'd despise them just as much if they fit into the cookie cutter mold of scorned Christmas outcasts, but I had an increasingly difficult time finding someone, anyone in the film who warranted my affection.
Even the ending -- a predictable copout if there ever was one -- is better and more engaging than the uninspired antics and dry levity that proceed it. It's especially disappointing when considering the many hilarious, poignant, and nuanced actors involved. What is it about Four Christmases that reduces Vaughn, a modern master of expression and gesture, to another ordinary romcom protagonist? What is it that robs Duvall of his screen power and grandfatherly stoicism? How is that Witherspoon, who usually connects her audience to her character's plight, comes across as such a self-centered siren? Why is Voight the only actor in the bunch who has something to say about love, family, and regret in a film supposedly examining love, family, and regret? It just goes to prove a cast, no matter how many Oscars they've collected, can't save a faulty script from its own mediocrity. I know, I know... "tell us how you really feel." In the end, comedy is a subjective genre and I'm sure some people will laugh their way through every minute of Gordon's first film. Me? There are just too many infectious, smartly written comedies on my shelf to waste much time with such unfulfilling, mean-spirited holiday themed nonsense.
Four Christmases Blu-ray, Video Quality
Four Christmases features a capable 1080p/VC-1 transfer that handles every holiday hue, fireside stocking, and sparkling light in stride. Colors are rich and satisfying, blacks are well-resolved, contrast is strong (albeit slightly inconsistent), and skintones, though a bit bronzed for their own good, are fairly natural and lifelike. Overzealous artificial sharpening frequently spoils the image (as does some intermittent noise reduction), but detail remains decidedly decent throughout. Edges are sharp, textures are adequate, and Witherspoon's freckles and Vaughn's stubble are generally intact. Likewise, minor artifacting occasionally appears in the background of several shots (watch the wood-grained walls at the McVie family home for the most obvious instances), but the majority of scenes boast an otherwise proficient presentation. Banding and aliasing are nowhere to be found, and ringing and crush are kept to a negligible minimum. Only some smearing, softness, and flailing delineation undermine the integrity of the transfer. Ultimately, Warner's encoding efforts won't draw any high praise, but should satisfy anyone who's already primed to enjoy Vaughn and Witherspoon's holiday misadventures.
Four Christmases Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Those expecting another chatty, front-heavy comedy will be somewhat pleased with Four Christmases' Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track. Though the film's many, many, many conversations primarily inhabit the front speakers, a few key scenes -- an early visit to a crowded nightclub, an office Christmas party, a busy airport, Kate's defiant venture into a moon bounce, a botched satellite dish installation, and others among them -- take fuller advantage of the entire soundfield. In these all too brief instances, both the LFE channel and the rear speakers come alive, drawing the listener into the chaos and, presumably, enhancing the hilarity of it all. It helps that directionality is fairly precise (minus a few third act mishaps when Brad leaves Kate at Creighton's house), pans are smooth, and the soundscape is populated with crisp crashes, gasps, and moans. Still, while quieter scenes deliver a series of passable ambient effects, the overall experience remains flat and two-dimensional. Ah well. Warner's faithful TrueHD offering certainly won't be confused for the sonic messiah, but it is a commendable track nonetheless.
Four Christmases Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Four Christmases bumbles onto Blu-ray with a disappointing supplemental package, a 44-minute waste of space that reveals little and explores even less. All of the video content is presented in high definition, so that's a plus, but the featurettes and additional scenes fail to redeem the film.
Four Christmases Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What Four Christmases lacks in holiday spirit, it more than makes up for with mean-spirited characters, lame dialogue, and contrived gags. While it begins and ends well enough, Brad and Kate's family visits are painful distractions that drag down the entire film. Warner's Blu-ray release fares better -- its video transfer and TrueHD audio track, though flawed, help justify the cost of a rental -- but its hollow collection of special features are a waste of time. As much as I adore Vaughn and his castmates, their involvement isn't able to save the film from its script, director, pacing, and so-called humor.
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• Four Christmases Blu-ray Announced - September 14, 2009
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