Ah the Christmas movie, is there anything more fitting and resembling of its subject matter when it comes to big screen adaptations? Much like the holiday season itself however, one can't assume absolute objectivity; Christmas is undoubtedly a holiday that is about family, joy and celebration and yet there are hordes of people who anticipate the ringing on sleigh bells with about as much excitement as a turkey waiting to be put into an oven. Four Christmases surprisingly accommodates this somewhat polarising aspect of the holiday during its initial stages, but then promptly spirals into cliché storytelling for the sake of proving a warm and fuzzy ending to melt the bitter snow in our hearts. What's most surprising however is that the movie's sugary latter half actually works a whole lot better than its former, as director Seth Gordon never quite hits the ball on his intended edgy comedy routines. In the end what you end up with is something akin to a dangerously half-cooked turkey dinner that has its moments and yet fails to satisfy because of the amount of picking you have to do. It's standard Christmas-time affair that will be sure to mildly please those who are into such a thing, but for the rest of us, it's just another thing on the list to avoid.
The name of the game this time around is, yes, you guessed it; family. Well, that, and dysfunction (of course). Four Christmases, a movie about finding out about the real joys of life which resolve to be not exotic holidays or gifts, but real, honest companionship- never goes anywhere new with what it has to say; if you've seen any number of cookie-cutter Christmas movies, you've pretty much seen this. To its advantage and at times disadvantage, the script penned by a whole array of writers I'm not even going to bother listing does broaden its horizons with comedy that stays true to the sub genre's a-typical formula but branches off with a little more risqué material. As to whether or not the risks reap any rewards is something of a mixed bag; there are moments when Four Christmases is genuinely funny, and the performances do well to get this across, but with far too many misses and an overwhelming lack of such instances, the movie certainly isn't going to have you out of your seat. That of course doesn't mean that there isn't fun to be had here, because there is; this is a feature that is bound to lightly amuse more than cause a ruckus of laughter, and for that there is a certain amount of praise warranted.
Where Four Christmases slips up quite often though lies in the tepid romance that is supposed to be getting some analytical treatment here. The story of Brad and Kate is not a new one; madly in love for three years, the two have been sharing a life of luxury together for a long time now, and yet never really got to know each other in the process. The movie opens with a rather striking sequence that even shows the two role-playing in public as cooked up personas, which is interesting considering how little time they have spent getting to know each other. Of course, this is an interesting premise, but little is done to capitalise on it script wise. When it comes to the performances of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, the dynamism and chemistry is just as rigid and dead; there is no believable spark present and no genuine moments of heart-warming romance. In fact, the most believable moments that occur between Vaughn and Witherspoon is when they are at odds with each other; again this plays into the movie's much more engaging comedic edge, but does little to pad out the silliness. On their own, the two thespians provide great performances respectively, but brought together there's an imbalance that never quite allows either of them to connect.
If there's one thing that the movie does get right however, it's conveying the frantic chaos inherent to the holiday, especially when it comes to family celebrations and get-togethers. Of course it's standard fare that has been done countless other times in far greater features, but in amongst the many problems that Four Christmases suffers from, such moments of awkward and often slapstick family confrontations fulfil their purpose of tickling the audience far greater than any of the other lacking elements. For a Christmas movie, it's not bad, but it's not great either; throwing in sporadic comedy and fun with lukewarm romance and lazy plotting, Four Christmases isn't anything new for holiday movie lovers to soak up, but it certainly isn't anything to loose any sleep over either. Instead it simply exists as a throw away for a couple of hours of silly entertainment to lighten the spirits; it may not do its job coherently, but it does so enough to satisfy those that target such affairs.
- A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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