- Rated PG-13
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by David Medsker
ince Vaughn, you’re officially on notice. Your let’s-make-mistakes, freestyle approach to filmmaking has, ironically, resulted in you making the same movie over and over…and that movie isn’t funny. Worse, you’re bringing legitimate actors (Paul Giamatti, Reese Witherspoon, even Jennifer Aniston) down with you in the process. After viewing the latest version of your one trick, “Four Christmases,” we’d like to formally suggest that you quit fucking around and stick to the script for a change. Who knows; you might discover that there’s a better writer out there – or at the very least a less selfish one – than you are.
Vaughn and his latest casualty (Witherspoon) are Brad and Kate, a travel-happy, role-playing couple with no plans of getting married for fear of winding up like their divorced parents. When their trip to celebrate Christmas in Fiji is canceled due to weather, they are stuck in San Francisco, and reluctantly decide to visit their parents on Christmas for the first time in years. Their parents are, in order, the bitter bully (Robert Duvall, natch), the reborn cougar (Mary Steenburgen), the oversexed GILF (Sissy Spacek), and lastly, the remorseful one who blew it when he was young (Jon Voight). Sprinkle in some dysfunctional siblings ranging from macho goons (Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau as Vaughn’s brothers) to unappreciated hottie (Kristin Chenoweth as Witherspoon’s sister), and you have the formula for chaos and occasional hilarity, not to mention the blueprint for the slow fracturing of Brad and Kate’s once-perfect relationship.
The use of the word “formula” was no accident: The scene at Robert Duvall’s house, where Vaughn gets the snot kicked out of him by both his brothers and nephews (Duvall just beats him verbally) seems to be inspired solely by the Christmas dinner scene from “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” mouthy kids and all. In fact, every child in this movie is mean, disrespectful and violent, to the point where one repeatedly slams Witherspoon’s face into the floor of a bouncy castle, then hits her with a flying kick and sends her hurtling out of the castle onto the ground. Far be it from me to play the values card, but Jesus, people. Aren’t there enough mouthy kids out there already? True, “Step Brothers” played a similar game, but the difference was that Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly were on the same playing field mentally as the kids, which is why the kids didn’t respect them. The kids here, meanwhile, are just punks. Lazy, lazy, lazy.
Word is that Vaughn and Witherspoon did not get along while making “Four Christmases,” and that makes sense; he likes to improvise with a scene (i.e. not prepare), and she played Tracy Flick in “Election,” then later named her production company Type A. Surprisingly, the chemistry between the two on-screen is pretty good, but for all the talking Vaughn does in this movie – the dialogue ratio between Vaughn and Witherspoon is ten to one, easy – it all winds up being meaningless chatter. Nothing he says gets a laugh as genuine as the Taboo scene between Favreau and his wife Susan (Katie Mixon). It’s the rare moment where these walking stereotypes do something human. The movie could have used more of them.
You could argue that Vaughn and Witherspoon get exactly what they deserve in “Four Christmases,” since neither of them is honest with the other and that is the movie’s moral. But what did we do to deserve this? Didn’t the public send a loud-and-clear message that they were tired of Vaughn’s lovable doofus schtick by staying away from “Fred Claus”? The director, Seth Gordon, made last year’s phenomenal documentary “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” (bonus points for giving “Kong” underdog Steve Weibe a cameo as Chenoweth’s silent, game-playing husband). He certainly deserved better than this. If I had my way, I’d sentence Vaughn to what for him would surely be like boot camp: a role in Quentin Tarantino’s next project. Maybe then, Vaughn might learn that it’s not always about him.