‘Four Christmases’ movie review: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon hate the holidays

Haphazardly thrown together, Seth Gordon’s Four Christmases feels like a rush job completed under the gun in order to make it to cinemas for the holiday season. 

A real disappointment, as I was a huge fan of the director’s previous film, the Donkey Kong documentary The King of Kong, and Four Christmases has a wonderful ensemble cast. Outside of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, however, nobody has much to do in this alarmingly short feature, which is around 80 minutes minus credits.

Vaughn and Witherspoon star as young couple Brad and Kate, the product of divorced families who vow to never marry or have children. Each Christmas they take a vacation in an effort to avoid making the Christmas rounds, telling their relatives they are off on a do-gooder mission to Burma to inoculate children or whatever makes for an acceptable excuse. 

They’re off to Fiji this year, but they didn’t count on the San Francisco fog; when planes are grounded and the couple is blindsided by a camera crew, relatives see them on TV and the jig is up. Now they’re off to celebrate Christmas with each of their estranged families in the titular four trips.

First stop is Brad’s father Howard, played with gusto by Robert Duvall, and his two brothers, cage wrestlers (“like on pay-per-view”) played by Jon Favreau and country music superstar Tim McGraw (twelve years after Swingers, and now the once-portly Favreau is in much better shape than frequent costar Vaughn, who seems to be ballooning at a Welles-like speed). 

Next up is Kate’s mother Marylin (Mary Steenburgen) and her new beau Pastor Phil (country music superstar Dwight Yoakam), who casts the couple as Joseph and Mary in church recital. 

Hurry over to visit Brad’s mother (Sissy Spacek), who is now married to Brad’s childhood friend, and the movie is almost over by the time we make it to Kate’s father’s place. Jon Voight has two minutes of screen time, tops.

Along the way there’s some forced message about the goodness of family life, which seems to be in direct contrast to all the family dysfunction that is taking place on the screen, and Brad and Kate reevaluate their goals. 

At least there’s no forced Christmas cheer here. In fact, the movie is so lacking in Christmas spirit it could have easily been Four Thanksgivings or Four President’s Day Weekends, and the latter would’ve even given them some time to clean this thing up. Editing is jarring at times, and continuity often seems to be an issue.

How does it work as a comedy? The dialogue is often amusing, even chuckle-worthy, and Vaughn and Witherspoon work well together. The physical stuff, which includes Brad wrasslin’ with his brothers and Kate attempting to receive a home pregnancy test from her niece, mostly falls flat. 

The supporting cast is game, though, it’s a real shame none of them get a chance to do their thing; these harried Four Christmases left me wanting for one big free-for-all where all these eccentric characters could get together.

Real-life Donkey Kong champ Steve Wiebe has a few lines here as Kate’s brother-in-law.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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