Brad and Kate have been together three years, in love, having fun, doing all sorts of things together with no intention of marriage or children. Christmas morning, they're on their way to Fiji, having told their two sets of divorced parents that they're off to do charity work. Through a fluke, they have no choice but to visit each of their four idiosyncratic parents. As the day progresses, Brad and Kate remember growing up, each learns more about the other, and Kate realizes that her life may not be as good as it could be. Do they know each other well enough to weather the storms families bring? Written by
Snappy Comedy Touches Smothered by Hollywood Overkill in Standard Holiday Fare
This rudely rambunctious, intermittently funny 2008 holiday comedy is a supreme case of Hollywood overkill along the lines of Jay Roach's "Meet the Fockers". Running a scant 89 minutes, it stars no less than five Oscar-winning actors in the standard cookie-cutter story of a commitment-phobic couple who are forced to visit each of their four divorced parents on Christmas day. Co-written by first-timers Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson, along with Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who co-wrote "The Hangover"), the premise shows promise with Kate and Brad, a pair of self-satisfied, upwardly mobile San Franciscans meeting for what looks like the first time in a bar. Their sharp-tongued banter turns out to be a role-playing fantasy since they are three years into their comfortable relationship. A major fog blanket rolls over the city and ruins their plans for a holiday vacation in Fiji. What's worse is that they are caught by a local news camera at the airport. Because they deceived their families into thinking they were traveling overseas to help starving third-world children, they embark on a daylong journey to each of their parent's houses, all conveniently located in the Bay Area.
However, the movie starts to decline precipitously with each visit. The first home the couple drops by belongs to Brad's redneck father, where his other sons, cage-fighting brothers Denver and Dallas tackle Brad with painful wrestling moves. It ends with an uncomfortable gift exchange where Brad's expensive gifts humiliate his blue-collar family. The couple then visits Kate's overly affectionate mother and a den of cougars, an episode in which it is revealed Kate had a childhood weight problem and a possible lesbian past. Brad's therapist mother is next on the itinerary, but he's still angry that she married his best friend, who is half her age, and a game of Taboo reveals the communication gulf that really exists between Kate and Brad. The last stop is at the home of Kate's father, and this is where the tone gets serious-minded as the couple learns a lesson in the value of being with family in spite of whatever personal differences may exist to divide them the rest of the year.
Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon - he with his semi-improvised riffing, she with her exacting intelligence - would seem to be absurdly mismatched, but they spar convincingly, even if they do look more like best friends than lovers. Vaughn gets to shine in a Christmas pageant scene where he basks in the limelight of his ham-fisted stage debut. Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek, and Jon Voight play the parents with little screen time, and only Duvall leaves much of an impression as an embittered shell of a man. Jon Favreau, Tim McGraw, Carol Kane, and Kristin Chenoweth gamely play various relatives in equally smallish roles. The whole venture is directed by Seth Gordon, whose only previous feature-length credit is the critically praised video-game documentary, "The King of Kong", and his storytelling inexperience shows in the sometimes ADD-level pacing of the story. The 2009 DVD, being released for the holidays, doesn't offer much in terms of extras other than two different screen formats.
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