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Hollywood's Hackneyed Holiday

Four Christmases do not equal one good movie

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As a rule, holiday comedies should be funny and heartwarming and Four Christmases is neither. Five Oscar winners are involved, none of whom are funny. Only Vince Vaughn, who plays a jerk better than anyone, scores decent laughs, but even his rants can't save this lump of coal.

Happily dating, Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon, Oscar: Walk the Line) dislike their families so much that every year at Christmas, they tell their relatives they're going on a charity trip to a third-world country. In reality, they usually escape to a grand vacation in an exotic locale, but this year their plane gets fogged in and a nosy TV reporter reveals their plan to their families. Before they know it, they're visiting each of their divorced parents on what's now to be a very long Christmas Day.

They start with Brad's father, Howard (Robert Duvall, Oscar: Tender Mercies). He's a primitive brute who likes to watch his other sons, Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw), beat up on poor Brad. Later it's revealed that Brad's given name is Orlando because they're all named after the city in which they were conceived, and this knowledge is supposed to make us laugh. It does not.

Kate's mom (Mary Steenburgen, Oscar: Melvin and Howard) doesn't believe in physical Christmas presents, largely because her boyfriend, Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakam), speaks against the commercialization of the holiday. This leads to Brad and Kate participating in a Christmas pageant, which—though it reeks of desperation—is one of the film's funniest bits. Afterward they see Brad's mom (Sissy Spacek, Oscar: Coal Miner's Daughter), who's dating one of his childhood friends, and finally Kate's dad (Jon Voight, Oscar: Coming Home), who barely registers. Along the way, Brad and Kate question whether their superficial relationship is what either of them wants.

Dysfunctional families are not new to Christmas comedies, but director Seth Gordon's movie feels like four Saturday Night Live segments with very little in common. Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore are credited for the screenplay which is cause for alarm. A unified focus is hard to achieve with that many perspectives.

Accordingly, small continuity gaps make you wonder if anyone read the script in its entirety. Brad's mom at one point calls him "Bradford," not his given name Orlando, and although Kate has crushing stage fright during the Christmas pageant, it's Brad who gets tongue-tied when a TV camera is on them, while Kate speaks loud and clear.

Of course, none of this would matter if the movie were funny. But that's what happens when you're bored: You start noticing the little things that usually wouldn't matter, and it makes you dislike something even more. For Thanksgiving, give thanks to yourself and avoid this movie.

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